NFL

Frustrated judge sends negotiators home

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MINNEAPOLIS

NFL owners and players were urged to review their cases Saturday after being released from a Minneapolis courthouse and told to "take the weekend and do some homework" by the apparently frustrated federal court judge.

The two sides who began mediation with the federal court judge Thursday were expected to continue for the next few days, but Judge Arthur Boylan released them midway through the day Friday.

Former Minnesota Vikings player Carl Eller, who is representing retired players during the negotiations, confirmed the judge's clear instruction, which he said came because "there wasn't enough progress."

Mediation was scheduled to begin again Tuesday morning. Despite the renewed talking, there was no indication yet on whether the NFL and locked-out players were any closer to a deal.

Their dispute is mostly about money. At stake is the $9 billion per year that the NFL makes, with the two sides hashing out who gets how much.

"Currently team owners take the first billion dollars off the top and then share all the revenue thereafter, giving players essentially 60 cents on every dollar earned," said Robert Boland, a professor of sports law at New York University's Tisch Center. "This is really a game of leverage."

Players want more revenue sharing. Owners want to share less, and to cap the amount guaranteed to rookies. Retired players are also fighting about keeping their cash and benefits.

The last time the two sides met under the guise of a mediator was in March. That meeting, which took place in Washington and lasted for over two weeks, ended when they reached a stalemate.

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The mediation resumed Thursday after players filed a lawsuit a week ago requesting an injunction to reopen the league and declare the lockout illegal, sending players back to work. This time the discussions are in federal court, and the judge wants mediation to take away the need for the injunction.

As weary-looking attorneys and player representatives strolled back into the courtroom for another round of negotiations, they carried large cups of coffee and tried to appear positive as they admitted not knowing how much longer it will all take.

"It's hard to say how it's going. There have been no decisions made yet, but at least we're discussing the issues and there are some important issues on the table," Eller said. As for the continually long days of mediating, "I think it shows a determination to get it done," he said.

The determination may be due to finances because a lot of money will be lost by both sides if there is no 2011 football season.

"I think both sides expect the other to cave," said Stephen Ross, Penn State University professor and director of the school's Sports Law and Policy Institute, who likened the dispute to a "sophisticated bar room brawl" or a "duel among gentlemen."

"It may take three or four lost games and lost revenue before they feel they've landed a few blows, bloodied each others noses a bit and then consider it acceptable to shake hands and go home," he said.

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