The NFL will allow players to return to their training facilities following Judge Susan Nelson’s decision to deny the NFL’s request for a stay of her ruling that the owners’ lockout of the players was in violation of antitrust law (Read Judge Nelson’s order). Judge Nelson stated, “This court need not address the matter further because even under the lenient standard that the NFL proposes, the League still is not entitled to a stay pending appeal.”
Faced with the prospect of being in contempt, the NFL wisely yielded. The league issued a statement specifying rules by which players can return to the facilities while the NFL’s lawyers go to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a stay of Judge Nelson’s order.
The NFL has informed its member teams that effective at 8 am this morning:
1) Players will be permitted to use club facilities for physical examinations, rehabilitation and medical treatment as scheduled by the club.
2) Clubs will be able to distribute playbooks, game film and other similar materials to players.
3) Coaches may meet with players for the purpose of discussing any materials distributed pursuant to Paragraph 2 above, as well as the club’s off-season workout program, its schedule of mini-camps and organized team activities (“OTAs”).
4) Voluntary off-season workout programs, including OTAs and classroom instruction may resume subject to the rules in Article XXXV of the 2006 collective bargaining agreement and Appendix L. Participating players will be paid $130 per day and such workouts will count toward any off-season workout bonus in the player’s contract.
5) On days when no official off-season workouts or OTAs are scheduled, nothing shall prevent the club from permitting any player to use the club facility to work out on a voluntary basis provided:
i) there is no participation or supervision from any coach, trainer, or other club personnel; and,
ii) the club has first verified that the player has existing medical insurance in place.
6) Mandatory and voluntary mini-camps may begin subject to the rules in Article XXXVI of the 2006 collective bargaining agreement.
7) The NFL office will promptly make arrangement to resume counseling, rehabilitation and treatment activities in connection with the substances of abuse and steroid programs. The league office will advise clubs as to when and on what basis testing will commence.
8) Players may participate in club-sponsored charitable and community-sponsored charitable and community relations events.
The NFL statement did not address the critical subjects of player transactions, including signings, player trades, terminations, and tryouts. The league states that it will distribute a comprehensive set of procedures governing such player transactions to all clubs, likely by sometime today. These procedures will include the timing for the commencement of the 2011 League Year, free agent signings and other player transactions.
The NFL’s issuance of its procedure plan will be an interesting development as the league is still faced with a crucial legal dilemma. The NFLPA is currently decertified. There is currently no players’ representative for the NFL to collectively bargain with. Thus, any changes that the league institutes could be subject to anti-trust challenge since the labor exemption cannot be used as a protective mechanism in a non-collective bargaining situation.