The League

Michael Kun
Author

Michael Kun

Co-author of The Football Uncyclopedia. He is also the author of six other books and is a practicing attorney.

Brilliant bargaining chip

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By now you have certainly read that the NFL is considering expanding its regular season from 16 to 18 games.

They may as well be talking about expanding the season to 100 games because it's highly unlikely to happen. (And if it does happen, it may mean that something has gone horribly wrong.)

There are two words to explain the proposal: "negotiating ploy."

And, as negotiating ploys go, it's a pretty darned good one.

You see, the NFL's Roger Goodell and the NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith are headed toward a showdown, one that could mean a lockout in 2011.

Despite what you hear, nobody wants a lockout. The fans don't want a lockout; I mean, what the heck would we do with four months worth of Sunday afternoons? Read books?

The players don't want to lose a season, or a season's pay.

The owners, despite some brave talk, don't want to lose a season's worth of revenue, particularly those who are carrying a lot of debt. (The national TV contracts, which run through 2011, will still send a significant amount of money to the owners if there is a lockout, but not enough to cover some of the individual debts.)

And, no, the NFL isn't going to put Keanu Reaves and a bunch of semi-pro players on the field, like in "The Replacements." The stadia will be dark.

So it's in everyone's interest to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. But how?

The problem is that the NFLPA wants to continue under the same terms as the old collective bargaining agreement, while the owners want to renegotiate some terms.

You don't have to be a labor lawyer to know that when one side is happy with the terms of a collective bargaining agreement and doesn't want to change anything, it's an agreement that is probably too one-sided.

You also don't need to be a labor lawyer to know that if you want to get the other side to give up something they are already receiving, you have to give them something in return.

In order to get the NFLPA to make some concessions in contract negotiations, whether it's a lowered salary cap or a smaller percentage of revenues, the NFL has to give them something in return. And here's betting that, when all is said and done, that "something" is going to be that the NFL will agree not to expand its regular season to 18 games.

I said earlier that it's a pretty darned good negotiating ploy.

Let me revise that. It may be a great negotiating ploy.

Why?

First, if it works, the NFL isn't really giving up anything if it agrees not to expand its season to 18 games. They might as well say they'll agree not to play the Super Bowl on the moon.

Second, the premise behind expanding the regular season by two games is that the preseason is too long, that fans don't want to watch the preseason games, and that fans don't want to pay full price for tickets to meaningless preseason games. Proposing getting rid of a couple of worthless preseason games and adding a few meaningful regular season ones is a proposal that's likely to have much fan support. That backs the union into a corner. Oppose reducing the preseason and expanding the regular season, and the union risks losing the public relations battle.

Third, the union probably doesn't want to call the NFL's bluff on this, because it's not a bluff. The fact that the NFL may not really intend to expand the season to 18 games doesn't mean that they won't do it if pressed.

Finally, and in some ways most importantly, the proposal to expand the regular season gives the union a way to present any recommended concessions to the players. The players seem to be opposed to expanding the season to 18 games, and they should be.

An expanded season means greater opportunities for injuries, particularly the wear-and-tear variety. It also means more meaningless games at the end of the season, when teams have already locked in their playoff berths or have been locked out. But there is tremendous value in giving the union the opportunity to go back to the players and say, "We fought tooth and nail to keep them from expanding the season to 18 games, and we got them to back down! All we have to do is give a little on a couple issues." It allows the union to save face with their constituents and to save their own jobs. That will be an important part of these negotiations. Everyone has his own self-interest in the negotiations, including the people doing the negotiating. Proposing an 18 game regular season, then allowing themselves to be talked out of it (wink, wink) in exchange for a few concessions, lets the NFL make everyone a winner.

By Michael Kun  |  August 31, 2010; 10:43 AM ET  | Category:  Competition Committee , NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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