NFL Owners Await Player Response To Deal

Host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Mike Pesca about the latest in the NFL labor talks, a self-assessment effort on behalf of the NCAA and more.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time now for sports.

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SIMON: Which means, time now for suits and boardrooms. NFL owners have approved a deal that would mean a start to the football season. Players haven't approved it yet. The head of the NCAA has said, quote, "The integrity of collegiate athletics is seriously challenged." A little like saying he's shocked to find gambling in a casino. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us.

Mike, thanks for being with us.

MIKE PESCA: You're welcome.

SIMON: Is there a football deal?

PESCA: There is or is half a deal or at least half the interested parties want there to be a deal. Thirty-one of the 32 NFL teams, with the exception of the Oakland Raiders who like to play difficult, have said, hey, here's our proposal. Why don't you guys sign it? And the other guys are the players who seem to be taking their sweet time looking it over.

If you go by what the players are saying, which isn't a lot, and what the players are tweeting, which isn't a lot of substance, it does just seem that the players just want a little bit of time to digest. I haven't heard from the players that we find this or that proposal objectionable.

And what the deal does, if it does finally get approved, is it allocates the $9.3 billion the NFL makes in a way that's a little more slanted to the owners than it was under the last agreement. Under the last agreement it was closer to 50/50. Now the players will get about 47 or 48 percent of the total revenue.

In addition, the players are going to get some things that they want, including fewer strenuous workouts. Those two-a-day workouts, which if like me you ever even played a little football, those were the things that you hated the most - getting up in the morning, taking a couple of hours and then showing back up in the afternoon. Those have been eradicated, if this agreement gets signed.

Retired players are also going to be getting about a billion dollars, about $630 million in pensions. And retired players were worried how they were going to be handled under the deal. This is if the deal does indeed go through. We might have to wait a couple days to see if that happens.

SIMON: Reducing workouts, though, is tied to the growing concern about the damage of the concussion. And there was a suit filed this week by 75 former players who claim the league has assiduously concealed information about the danger of concussions for decades, dating back to the '30s.

PESCA: This is a theme that is going on in the NFL. And a lot of the things that the players ask for in negotiations I think you wouldn't have seen so emphasized a dozen years ago. Things like limited on-field practice time, limited contact. And the head injury issue, the concussion issue, is one that has certainly come to the fore in the NFL.

And I would just say that Roger Goodell had a choice a couple of years ago. He could've obfuscated. He could've denied, dragged his feet. But Roger Goodell said, no, we're going to study the issue of concussions. We're going to acknowledge that it's been a problem.

Well, the downside to that from the NFL's perspective is it does open you up to a suit like this. You very rarely see players anymore pooh-poohing the effects of a head injury or saying, come on, I just got my bell rung. And when a player does say that it becomes news, just because it's so rare to have the opinion anymore.

SIMON: Finally, Mike, the president of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, issued a press release this week saying that the integrity of collegiate athletics is under serious challenge today. He said a few new tweaks to the rules won't get the job done. Why is he speaking out now?

PESCA: Well, in a couple of weeks there's going to be a conclave, a meeting, where he called together university presidents. And he in advance of that is saying this is not going to be some nibbling around the edges. We have to make some serious rule changes.

Because during this especially football offseason, we saw Jim Tressel being dismissed from Ohio State. We saw LSU being punished for recruiting violations, University of North Carolina. Issues raised in the biggest schools, the most prominent schools.

The Journal of Higher Education did a study that showed the 53 of the 120 universities in the NCAA's top competition level, the football bowl subdivision, were found to have a major infraction in the last decade. It's just a terrible problem.

But we don't know what Mark Emmert can do. He has said he doesn't want to pay players. That for him is a bridge too far.

There is the fundamental problem of this billion dollar industry. Just for basketball, CBS and Turner pays the NCAA $10.8 billion. And the main people generating that money, who are the players, they don't get any money.

So this is - there's no easy solution to that. But at least there seems to be an acknowledgement that we have to do a lot more in terms of enforcement. We don't just want to leave it up to investigative reporters to break all the stories that we have to follow up on. And maybe there's something we can do so that players don't feel that they're getting cheated out of money that's owed to them.

SIMON: NPR's Mike Pesca, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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