NFL Players Decertify Union; Big East Semifinal

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins Linda Wertheimer live in the studio to discuss the NFL Players Association's move to decertify their union. They also talk about Friday night's Syracuse-Connecticut Big East semifinal and the controversy surrounding Connecticut's head coach, Jim Calhoun.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Time now for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

Sports jargon used to be so much simpler. But today, terms like collective bargaining, decertification, federal mediation are daily fixtures in the sports section. You practically need a degree in labor law to understand whats going on with the NFL.

But all we have is sports correspondent Tom Goldman, who's in our studio to help make sense of it all. Welcome to the East Coast, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Thank you, Linda, although Im missing my three hours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: The NFL Players Association decertified yesterday, just before the 5 p.m. deadline. And in response, the owners locked out the players. What does this mean? Why did they do it?

GOLDMAN: OK, what does this mean: We've now got a new NFL-related stat to keep track of - billable hours...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: ...'cause it's all about the lawyers now, and about the courts.

Why did they do it? The players believed all along that the owners were going to impose a lockout, which means shutting down the league, preventing players from team property, and stopping trades and free agency. And because the players felt decertification and filing an antitrust lawsuit and a request for an injunction against that lawsuit - which they have done - that that would help to keep the league operating, which benefits the players right now.

The owners believe a lockout, which is - and it's the first NFL work stoppage since 1987 - is the kind of tactic that can force the players to adopt owners' contract terms.

WERTHEIMER: So does turning this into a legal battle make it less likely that we'll see football in 2011?

GOLDMAN: You know, it might. Court cases take time. And you know, it'll maybe take - people are saying - maybe a month to decide on the players' request to block the lockout. It could take longer for antitrust litigation against the league. And some say now, that there's a real possibility that the impasse will lead to 2011 games being canceled.

And for all those half-full fans out there, I will quote Buffalo Bill safety George Wilson, who was quoted as saying: The season doesnt start until September. If we get to July, August and September and start losing games, then I can understand people getting emotional. But it's March; take a deep breath.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: So, we'll see.

WERTHEIMER: OK.

GOLDMAN: It's up to the lawyers.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. So we could actually talk about some actual sporting events.

GOLDMAN: Why not?

WERTHEIMER: The NCAA basketball season has its conference championships this weekend, and all eyes are on the Big East, particularly with UConn upsetting both Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. UConn is red hot right now and Kemba Walker, especially, just been playing fabulously. He was passed over for...

WERTHEIMER: Great. Great, buzzer-beater.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, exactly. He was passed over for Big East Player of the Year, and he's playing like he has a point to prove.

WERTHEIMER: So - but there still is a bit of a schism with UConn's coach. Jim Calhoun is actually suspended for three games, but not until next winter. Does that kind of take the bite out of it?

GOLDMAN: Maybe a little bit. People say - yeah, it's interesting. We're not really thinking about that now cause Jim Calhoun is just loving this ride, leading the UConn Huskies to the Big East championship game tonight. But let us not forget - those of us doomsayers in the studio - that Calhoun was suspended for some improper dealings a couple of years ago, with a recruit.

The NCAA felt that he should miss some games. But those games will be next season - the first three Big East games of the year. He's being allowed to coach during the conference championships and into the NCAA tournament. Some people say thats not enough of a bite; if the NCAA really wants to send a message, that you have to punish people right away.

WERTHEIMER: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, an old meanie. Thanks for joining us, Tom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: My pleasure, and Im sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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