We’re less than two weeks away from the opening day of the 2012-13 NHL season, which can only mean one thing — the players are locked out. For the third time in 18 months (yes, we have a lockout hat trick), a major sport’s team owners have shut the door on their players in the hopes of scaling back player salaries. This is all depressingly familiar for NHL fans, who have now suffered through four lockouts and 1,698 missed games since 1992. By comparison, Major League Baseball has missed 938 games because of work stoppages since 1992; the NBA has missed 504; and the NFL has missed none, though their referees missed a doozy of a game last Monday night. It’s time to take a closer look at what the NHL lockout is all about and when we might see it come to an end. Here are some key questions and answers that will help guide you through Lockout: Part III.
With the NFL preseason in full swing, the Bountygate scandal is just beginning to wind its way through the courts. Last Friday, lawyers for the NFL, NFLPA, and Jonathan Vilma appeared for the second time in front of Judge Berrigan in federal court in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Each side was looking for a knockout blow — Vilma and the NFLPA wanted an immediate ruling vacating the players’ suspensions (though Vilma would have been more than happy with a preliminary injunction to get him back into camp and on the field for the Saints), while the NFL wanted an immediate dismissal of all of the cases pending against the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, including Vilma’s defamation suit.
This case was always a bit of a long shot for the players because review of commissioner discipline for “conduct detrimental” is only permissible in extremely limited circumstances. The players argued to the court that those circumstances existed here — Goodell was biased, he prejudged the outcome of the case, his punishment was arbitrary and capricious, he exceeded the scope of his authority under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, and he failed to give the players due process. Jeffrey Kessler, outside counsel for the NFLPA, was at his fiery best, at turns channeling courtroom giant Brendan Sullivan (telling the judge: "You are not a potted plant, an innocent bystander helpless to right this wrong”) and Catskills giant Henny Youngman (remarking that one of the arbitration decisions in favor of the league “slice the salami so thin it became bologna”). The NFL essentially played defense, arguing that the players — and the judge — may disagree with the commissioner’s decision, but federal law and the terms of the collective bargaining agreement simply do not permit a judge to undo or interfere with the commissioner’s decision to punish players for conduct detrimental to the league.
As expected, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell denied the appeals of the Bounty Four, setting off a string of lawsuits that shifts the scene from the NFL offices to a federal courthouse in New Orleans. The lawsuits center on the scope of the commissioner’s authority and the rights of the players to challenge the exercise of that authority. The players agreed to a system where the commissioner is empowered to serve as detective, judge, jury, and executioner in matters impacting the integrity of the game. That is, if a player engages in “conduct detrimental” to the league, the commissioner has the power to investigate the wrongdoing, discipline the player, and then hear the player's appeal. That system may seem unfair, but it is a system that the players agreed to in the new CBA and will have to live with for the next nine years.
On Friday, arbitrator Kenneth Dam ruled that Jeremy Lin and Steve Novak were entitled to Early Bird rights under the NBA collective bargaining agreement. The decision was a huge win for the Knicks. It allows them to use the Early Bird exception to re-sign Lin and Novak and still have use of their mid-level exception to sign other free agents. While New York fans drool over the possibilities this opens for the Knicks, here’s a quick Q&A to help you understand the ruling.
For more than four years, the federal government put together a case to prove that Roger Clemens had made false statements to a House Government Reform Committee that was investigating performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. On Monday, after only two full days of deliberation, a jury found Clemens not guilty on all counts.
The trial featured 46 witnesses and was marked by “agonizingly tedious hours of testimony” that put multiple jurors to sleep. In case you also slept through the trial, here’s the short version of what happened — the government pinned its hopes on a shaky witness and a crumpled beer can, and lost. For those of you who want a more thorough recap, I'll try to catch you up now.
The Super Bowl host-city curse lives on. In the 2010-11 season, the Super Bowl was coming to Dallas, and Tony Romo broke his collarbone, the team finished 6-10, and their new stadium wasn’t quite ready yet. In 2011-12, the Super Bowl was coming to Indianapolis, and during that season, Peyton Manning was sidelined with a neck injury, the Colts finished 2-14, and Adam Sandler released Jack and Jill. (The curse works in mysterious ways.) In 2012-13, the Super Bowl is on its way to New Orleans, and the NFL has dropped the hammer on the Saints for their involvement in Bountygate — a full year suspension for coach Sean Payton, an eight-game suspension for general manager Mickey Loomis, a six-game suspension for assistant coach Joe Vitt, a $500,000 fine, the loss of second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013, and player suspensions likely to follow soon. (Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely.) Payton & Co. are making one last-ditch effort to beg for mercy by filing an appeal with Commissioner Roger Goodell. (Yes, they are strenuously objecting to their suspensions.)
Plenty has already been said about the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal and the severity of the punishments, but I want to step back and give you a quick Sports Law 101 look at what gives the commissioner the right to suspend the Bountygaters, and what rights the Bountygaters have to challenge the suspensions.
With the first weekend of the March Madness behind us, those who want to punch Austin Rivers in the face (what did he ever do to you?) or otherwise obsessively hate Duke are still celebrating what has been called “the biggest upset in college basketball history,” “a stunner,” “a monumental choke,” and “a dreary Disneyfied inconsequence that features all the bigotries of century-old pulp fiction and none of the romance.” (Actually, that last one may have been about John Carter.)
But I want to focus on a different storyline. Because there’s a legal angle behind every sports story — and because I’m not ready to stop looking at college basketball lists — I’ve put together a power ranking of teams based on NCAA violations and run-ins with the law. I’m talking major NCAA infractions, not violations for supplying chocolate milk to student-athletes. (I recognize that some believe that every NCAA rule is the equivalent of a ban on providing chocolate milk to athletes, but rules are rules, and I’ll pick that fight another day.)
As you’ll see, 43 out of the 68 teams that were in the tournament this year have committed major violations. That’s not a particularly surprising number given that it’s a relatively inbred group, with coaches jumping from school to school, often leaving a trail of NCAA violations in their wake. I was actually able to connect all 68 of the head coaches to either Rick Pitino (the prince of conduct unbecoming) or Jerry Tarkanian (the godfather of NCAA violations) in seven steps or fewer (and all but three in six steps or fewer). For example, Scott Nagy, the head coach at South Dakota State, was a graduate assistant with Lou Henson at Illinois; Tony Stubblefield was an assistant to Henson at New Mexico State; Stubblefield was an assistant coach with Mick Cronin at Cincinnati; and Cronin was an assistant with Pitino at Louisville. OK, to make it easier, here’s a fancy chart that diagrams all the connections.
Here's how the basketball programs stack up. Instead of ranking them by number, I've grouped schools by pop culture good guys and bad guys, starting with the innocent, then moving down to the very, very, very guilty.
It looks like David Stern picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue. After a lengthy and contentious lockout, a brief antitrust skirmish, and the cancellation of 16 regular season games, the owners and the NBPA finally agreed to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. The months of bad publicity quickly washed away, and then Stern stepped right into the Chris Paul nightmare, vetoing a three-team trade that would have sent the inevitably-soon-to-be-ex-Hornet Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and a solid core of players — Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom, and Goran Dragic — to the league-owned Hornets. Meanwhile, Stern and the Hornets continue to search for a trading partner for Paul.
We’re in yet another NBA-less week of November, and the labor talks between the players and owners took an ugly turn last week when the NBPA dissolved its union and players filed antitrust suits. With a lawsuit already pending in New York between the owners and the players, we have now officially moved from the sometimes-contentious collective bargaining phase to always-contentious litigation period.
And, instead of battling over BRI and salary-cap exceptions, the players and owners, represented by some of the best litigators and antitrust lawyers in the country, will now battle over labor exemptions and antitrust violations. In other words, as some have put it, basketball fans are about to enter a “nuclear winter,” the “doomsday scenario,” and “a foul, hilarious, and surprisingly heartwarming holiday experience that utilizes its eye-popping technology to take gross-out humor to a new level.” (That last one may refer to A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.)
I’m not here to talk about why things broke down. Instead, I want to talk about how we put them back together — how do we go from no union, no collective bargaining talks, and antitrust suits to an NBA season? It will be a bumpy road, and we might not get there in time to save the season, but here are some of the answers to the key questions that might arise over the next several weeks of this fight.