THE NFL and its locked-out players concluded a fourth day of court-ordered talks on Wednesday, and with the clock ticking on the 2011 season they may not meet again for several weeks.
Jeff Pash, the league’s lead negotiator, said US Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan told both sides they probably won’t reconvene until May 16.
In the meantime, US District Judge Susan Richard Nelson is expected to rule on a players’ request for an injunction to immediately lift the lockout, which is now in its 40th day.
“That is the judge’s decision,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “She will make that ruling when she is prepared to do it, and at that point in time we all will respect the ruling and we will get back to the point where we are negotiating.”
Goodell said the NFL is planning to start the season on time, even as the first work stoppage in America’s most popular spectator sport since 1987 drags on.
“We’re planning to play a full season and we’re going to negotiate as hard as we can to get that done,” Goodell said on a conference call with New York Giants season-ticket holders.
The league released its regular season schedule on Tuesday, planning for a September 8 season-opener with Super Bowl champions Green Bay hosting New Orleans.
Goodell, Green Bay Packers chief executive Mark Murphy, Falcons President Rich McKay and owners Pat Bowlen of Denver, Jerry Jones from Dallas and Jerry Richardson from Carolina attended Wednesday’s session.
Players Ben Leber and Mike Vrabel were joined by Hall of Famer Carl Eller and attorneys for the talks with Boylan.
Boylan has overseen four days of talks between the feuding parties, who are at odds over how to divide up $9 billion in annual revenues.
The owners want to increase the $1 billion per year that they take off the top for expenses, while players say they haven’t seen sufficient financial justification for such a change.
Other issues under discussion include benefits for retired players, pay for rookies and the NFL’s desire to stretch the regular season from 16 to 18 games.
Players have taken their case to court, with a class-action anti-trust lawsuit against the league filed by players including marquee quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
That lawsuit has been combined with two others filed by former players and rookies-to-be.
The Sports Business Daily reported on its website on Wednesday that a group of about 70 “mid-tier” players were considering hiring a law firm to intervene in the anti-trust case in order to get a seat at the mediation table.
According to the report, the players were “upset” that mediation broke off last month before the NFL Players Association decertified as a trade union—a move that paved the way for litigation.