No fans, no players, no trespassing at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. (David Duprey / Associated…)
Even though it will be three weeks before a federal appeals court will hear the NFL's argument for keeping the lockout in place, several other league issues are percolating in the background.
In preparation for a June 3 hearing on the lockout by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the NFL filed its argument Monday in which it said lifting the lockout, as District Judge Susan Richard Nelson has ordered, would thrust the league into chaos. With no labor deal in place, the league said, forcing the league to restart football operations would mean teams would have to sign free agents and make trades under a set of rules that could change drastically once a permanent deal is put in place.
The league argued that Nelson, in lifting the lockout, "failed entirely to consider the serious, immediate and irreparable harm the injunction posed to the NFL" while she "vastly overstated both the harm to the [players] and the nature of that harm."
The 8th Circuit issued a temporary stay of Nelson's order keeping the lockout in place for the time being.
Meanwhile, owners and players are awaiting a ruling as early as this week from U.S. District Judge David Doty on the damages in the so-called lockout insurance case. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday, although it's not known whether he will rule immediately on what should be done.
In March, Doty ruled that the league was wrong in arranging payments from its broadcast partners in the case of a lockout. He said it was the responsibility of the owners to negotiate the best possible TV deals, on their behalf and that of the players, and not to accept lesser deals that included the promise of payments even when games had been canceled.
Owners were expecting to be paid in excess of $4 billion from networks if games were not played this season, and in at least one case they were going to be paid more if games weren't played than if they were played.
Doty is prepared to rule on what should be done with that money. The players want an injunction that would bar owners from using any portion of the lockout fund, and they want to be compensated in the form of actual and punitive damages.
"The judge found that [the league's] conduct was unconscionable, and that it set out with an intent to harm the players," said attorney Tom Heiden of Latham & Watkins, representing the players in the case.
On another front, the NFL may call on the World Anti-Doping Agency to oversee the testing of players for performance-enhancing drugs, the New York Times reported Monday. That could eventually lead to blood testing players for human growth hormone for the first time, something the former union was staunchly against.