The NFL Owners' Prevent Offense: Play For Time As the NFL's labor issues get bogged down in the courts, team owners know that eventually, football fans will become impatient. And if the season is delayed, the players will lose any public sympathy they originally had.
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The NFL Owners' Prevent Offense: Play For Time

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The NFL Owners' Prevent Offense: Play For Time

The NFL Owners' Prevent Offense: Play For Time

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NFL owners and players are still squabbling over how much the players should be paid. The owners want to cut back on salaries, and the players are resisting. Negotiations start again tomorrow, and commentator Frank Deford offers a prediction on who's likely to win.

FRANK DEFORD: Do you get the feeling that the National Football League labor negotiations harkens us back to nothing less than the Vietnam peace talks? Any minute now, I expect the two sides to start arguing over the shape of the table. Both sides have essentially said: Yeah, we sure do want to talk, only not actually to one another - until finally a judge has ordered them to meet again, pretty please, starting tomorrow.

If you haven't been paying attention, which is to your credit, the whole business has been turned over to lawyers. After the owners locked out the players, the Players Association decertified itself as a union and had some players - including the glamorous likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning - sue the league individually. Meanwhile, the league countered by asking the courts to call the whole decertification ploy a sham.

It's so ridiculous, you just wish it could be like United States government, where lobbyists could come in and get things done.

Most of you have heard of the prevent defense - or, as we would say in real life, prevent defense. Effectively, it seems to me, what the owners are doing is running a prevent offense. Time is on their side, for two reasons. First, the average lifespan of an NFL player is about three-and-a-half seasons, and they only get paid in-season. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning aren't going to miss a paycheck. A lot of lesser lights are. It's going to be hard to keep the players together.

Secondly, invariably in these sports disputes, the public forgets the issues. The cry simply goes up: Never mind your argument. Just give us our circus. Usually in the past, what we heard was: A plague on both your houses. Now it's fashionable to say: It's just a bunch of billionaires fighting millionaires. The owners know that as the season approaches, the fans will merely become impatient and the players will lose what sympathy they originally had.

After all, in a bad economy, the owners picked the fight, even though everybody in the NFL is in clover. The owners plead financial distress, but won't open their books. The players appeared to be the victims.

But as long as the owners, abetted by the players, can keep the dispute tied up in court so that it's not players versus owners but lawyers versus lawyers, the original issues will be obfuscated. And hang what is right or wrong, or fair or unfair, the public will simply demand compromise for compromise sake. The owners' prevent Offense will win the day.

INSKEEP: Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday from our member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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