Union files collusion case against NFL teams
By Mark Maske
UPDATED (10:01 p.m.)...
The NFL Players Association has filed a collusion case against teams, accusing the sport's franchise owners of improperly conspiring to restrict players' salaries last offseason, sources familiar with the case said Monday.
It is not clear how many teams are named in the union's case, how many affected players are cited or the extent of the financial damages being sought.
The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union prohibits a team from entering "into any agreement, express or implied" with the NFL or another team "to restrict or limit" contract negotiations with players or players' salaries.
The league had no comment and the union didn't respond to requests for comment. But multiple people familiar with case, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on it publicly, confirmed its filing last week.
Sources familiar with the case previously said it would cite the lack of activity on the restricted free agent market last offseason, among other things.
The case is to be decided by Stephen B. Burbank, the University of Pennsylvania law professor who serves as the NFL's special master, putting him in charge of resolving disputes between the league and union arising from their collective bargaining agreement. Any decision by Burbank could be appealed to Minneapolis-based U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, who oversees the sport's labor deal.
The filing by the union was first reported by the Web site profootballtalk.
Under the terms of the existing labor deal, the union would have to prove that the owners improperly conspired to restrict players' salaries--rather than merely demonstrating that players were paid less money--to prevail in a collusion case.
For a collusion claim to be successful, the union would have to demonstrate "by a clear preponderance of the evidence" that teams conspired improperly in violation of the collective bargaining agreement and a player or players suffered economic harm as a result, the labor deal says.
The union appeared poised to file the case in early December to meet a deadline under the collective bargaining agreement. But the filing was delayed at that point under an agreement between the league and the union.
The two sides issued a joint written statement Dec. 7 that said: "The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to extend the deadline for the players to file a collusion claim. This agreement does not prevent the NFLPA from filing a collusion claim at a future date. We are continuing to work toward a new CBA that will be good for players, owners and fans."
The labor deal includes provisions to set the amount of the damages if a successful collusion claim is made by the union.
The case is being filed as the players and union attempt to negotiate an extension of their labor deal, which expires in March. Players and union officials have said they expect the players to be locked out by the owners after the labor contract expires. Owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have said they would rather negotiate a new deal with the players that addresses what they call the sport's economic problems.
This season was played without a salary cap. The salary cap expired following the 2009 season.
The owners are scheduled to meet Tuesday in Atlanta.
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