NFL can’t use TV cash in work stoppage

A federal judge Tuesday dealt a blow to the NFL in advance of a potential work stoppage this week.

U.S. District Court Judge David Doty overruled special master Stephen Burbank’s recent ruling that the owners could use the $4 billion in television money they had stashed away as a potential work-stoppage fund should the collective bargaining agreement expire midnight (ET) Thursday .

In essence, Doty ruled the NFL violated the CBA and called for a separate hearing to assess the damages that should be awarded to the players.

After Doty’s ruling, the NFL released this statement:

"As we have frequently said, our clubs are prepared for any contingency, this decision included. Today’s ruling will have no effect on our efforts to negotiate a new, balanced labor agreement."

A league spokesman told the Associated Press that the NFL had not immediately determined whether it would appeal Doty’s ruling.

The NFL Players Association said about the decision: "This ruling means there is irrefutable evidence that owners had a premeditated plan to lockout players and fans for more than two years. The players want to play football. That is the only goal we are focused on."

The NFL appears to have lost leverage in CBA negotiations as a result of Doty’s ruling, so we’ll see if this helps spur an agreement.

At a hearing last week, NFL attorney Gregg Levy argued it would be "repugnant to federal labor law" for Doty to intervene in the broadcast rights fees issue. Players’ union attorney Jeffrey Kessler countered that the billions in leverage is part of a long-devised lockout plan and that the NFL didn’t act in good faith.

Doty said at the hearing that he didn’t want to put his "thumb on the scale of the collective bargaining" process.

The union contends the NFL failed to secure "maximum" revenue, as it is required to do, in both 2009 and 2010 when it renegotiated broadcast contracts with FOX, NBC, ESPN, CBS and DirecTV that included revised "work stoppage" plans. The NFLPA said the work stoppage clauses in particular were struck to guarantee "war chest" income for the NFL, giving it an unfair advantage in the labor talks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.