Reporters that inhabit the odd center of the sports/business/legal Venn diagram are descending on Saint Louis once again, in advent of tomorrow's decision from the three-panel Judgeship of the 8th Circuit Court. On deck: a ruling, finally, on whether or not to re-lift the Lockout, upholding or kneecapping the decision by Judge Susan Nelson.
Link: Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post steps into the George Michael Sports Machine to offer a highlight reel of how we got to this point, and what it means moving forward.
DeMaurice Smith and several of the players will be in court as well to hear the reading of the decision. Presumably they have been keeping their game faces in shape during the offseason; they'll need it, given the two consecutive rulings by this business-firendly court in favor of the owners. Another pro-Owner ruling won't force the players back to the table though, not with the Tom Brady et al vs the NFL anti-trust case still alive in its own legal arena. Yes, they're still attending mediation, but even the league now admits that they don't expect any results from that avenue. (SBJ story: subscription required.)
As the Lockout grinds on with more player-initiated workouts springing up here and there -- the Rams' next get-together happens next week in Phoenix -- the league's coaches continue to be stuck in neutral. The position almost demands a "control-freak" personality, so there can't be a much worse feeling than not being there when your players get on the field. Anyone talking to Coach Spags right now gets one unfulfilled wish, repeated over and over like Dorothy clicking her ruby slippers: "When the players and coaches get back together... get back together..."
For all of that wishing, though, Spagnuolo and the Rams were apparently not a part of the coaches' cabal that crossed picket lines to side with the players. And for his part, Bill Parcells thinks the coaches will be okay as long as they maintain their focus.
However, there just might be a reason for hope -- or at least a reason to hope for hope -- with the late-breaking news that several key owners met in secret with Smith and several of the players. No mediators, no court order, no third parties of any kind between them, except perhaps a sommolier. More an more details have been trickling out since this was first reported -- the known attendees now include the power trio of Jerry Jones, Jerry Richardson and Robert Kraft, as well as a pair of elder voices of common sense, the Giants' John Mara and the Steelers' Dan Rooney.
The timing of the meeting is curious, unless both sides think that tomorrow's ruling is already in the bag for the owners. And it very probably is. The Players would then be down to their weapon of last resort -- the "nuclear option" of a full-on legal assault on the NFL's anti-trust exemption.
If you blow that exemption out of the water, it might mean a financial windfall for the players, but it could also destroy everything we know about competitive balance in the NFL: the salary cap, revenue sharing, even the NFL Draft itself.
And if there's anything worth hoping for, here's hoping it won't come to that.