Day 2 of mediation begins in NFL, players dispute
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The NFL and its locked-out players opened their second day of court-ordered talks Friday amid hopes for progress in their fight over how to divide $9 billion in revenue.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan is overseeing the talks at the federal courthouse in Minneapolis. The two groups spent more than nine hours together in his chambers on Thursday and returned Friday morning.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, several league officials, attorneys and four team owners are on hand for the NFL, with players association officials, attorneys and a couple of players present on the other side.
The closed-door sessions are confidential, but both sides called the first day constructive. The talks are the first since negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement fell apart last month.
So how long might this go?
``The court has indicated it wants to continue with everyone talking as long as it makes sense,'' said Michael Hausfeld, an attorney for the players.
So what about the fans, who are frustrated by the back-and-forth rhetoric with no promise of an accord before training camps are to begin in late July.
``Well, I'm a fan too,'' said Hall of Famer Carl Eller, among those on the players side of the talks. ``We would like to ease their minds. We can't tell them the outcome, but we are very interested in having a football season. A lot of things depend on it, of course. But, I'm with the fans. We want them to be happy. That's what's important to us.''
It was the first time the sides have sat down to talk since March 11, when the collective bargaining agreement expired, the union was dissolved to clear the way for a court fight and the NFL wound up with its first work stoppage since the monthlong strike in 1987.
With the 2011 season in peril, Boylan is overseeing this round of talks after 16 days of mediated sessions in Washington failed to secure a new labor pact.
Goodell stepped away from the session to join a teleconference with 5,300 Cleveland Browns season-ticket holders for 20 minutes Thursday. He would not characterize the negotiations, which are supposed to remain confidential, but did reiterate the importance of the sides getting together.
``I can tell you that it's a positive step when the parties are talking,'' he said. ``We saw the March 11 proposal as responsive to issues raised by the players and there are many attractive elements in it. ... Our entire focus is on getting a deal done.''
Goodell said the league hopes to release its schedule for next season within the next 10 days and plans to play ``a full season.'' Goodell also said there are no plans to use replacement players as the league did in 1987, and that the Super Bowl in Indianapolis could be pushed back one week or the two-week gap after the conference championships could be shortened to one if necessary.
Goodell's main message was to assure fans they would see the Browns play next season.
``We're going to make sure we have football, and more of it,'' he said.
Goodell held a similar session Wednesday with Dolphins season-ticket holders. During that call, he stressed the league's goal of keeping player costs under control and, in response to a question about financial transparency, said the NFL's disclosure has been ``extraordinary.'' He insisted the players know ``the revenue down to the penny,'' a reference to the union's push for the league to open the books.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who ordered the mediation, is still considering a request from the players to lift the lockout imposed by the owners. After an April 6 hearing, she said she planned to rule on the injunction request in a couple of weeks.
Players including MVP quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning filed the request along with a class-action antitrust suit against the league. The lawsuit has been combined with two other similar claims from retirees, former players and rookies-to-be.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.