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Mediation returns, but still not winning formula

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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The owners and players are scheduled to again meet for court-ordered mediation beginning this coming week in Minnesota. To say this will be a dog and pony show is an insult to dogs and ponies.

Neither side believes in it. Neither side wants to do it. No one among the ownership or players thinks it will produce anything other than billable hours and frequent-traveler miles.

Kevin Mawae and the players' reps don't appear to be in any more of a mood for compromise than the owners. (AP)  
Kevin Mawae and the players' reps don't appear to be in any more of a mood for compromise than the owners. (AP)  
Privately, officials from both sides are saying this is a prototypical case of going through the court-ordered motions, just as both sides did during mediation in Washington, and as they did during the first round of mediation in Minnesota.

They do it, as one source familiar with the negotiation process said, to give the public the appearance of trying.

Both the players and owners know the battle for fan hearts and minds is a constant one and neither wants the fans to believe they've given up on negotiating despite both sides doing exactly that.

So this is what we'll see. The owners, I've confirmed, are sending a contingent that includes the Giants' John Mara, the Bengals' Mike Brown, the Steelers' Art Rooney and the Panthers' Jerry Richardson. The players are sending a group that probably includes DeMaurice Smith, former head of the union. At the negotiating table, little will happen. Away from it will come the impromptu press conferences. The owners will say the only way to resolve the impasse is through mediation. The players will say the owners violated the law.

Next week both sides will repeat shades of both messages with varying degree of loudness and fury. The dueling press conferences and messages will basically translate to the following:

Owners: the players suck. Players: the owners suck. You suck. No, you suck. You shut up. No, you shut up.

The pooches and ponies, the circus act, the ridiculousness of it all.

"The players understand the fight that they're in," Smith told WFAN radio in New York this past week. "Right now they don't want to lay down and be forced to take a deal. They don't believe that it's fair. I can tell you that they resent being lied to. They resent being tricked. They resent the fact the league has been found now twice to have violated the law. So those are the people that we're inextricably tied to."

Fan Poll

Who do you blame for the NFL labor standoff?

Players
22%
Owners
26%
Blame both sides
52%

Total Votes: 60,363

The reason this round of mediation will likely produce what the other rounds did -- which is nothing -- is because like previously, pending court decisions take precedent. What happens in the 8th circuit in June will render one side with far more leverage than the other. In actuality, striking a deal doesn't make sense yet.

Mediation in July or August might work. Mediation now won't.

The NFL remains in 8th circuit hell, the labor equivalent of Dante's Inferno. The court still hasn't ruled if the temporary lockout (the one that has ground the sport to a halt) is still viable. The much larger and more important ruling, expected to come late June or into July on the permanency of the lockout, will be the biggest ruling of this entire mess.

There is also the issue of trust. None exists. It was gone long ago and no mediator will be able to erase the intense hatred that exists between the owners and players. Not yet, anyway.

One person involved in the negotiations said this mediation will work as well as most divorce mediations. Like the NFL's, divorce mediations have a high rate of failure.

Is it possible all of these smart men will sit down and work out a deal? It's possible. It's also possible Charlie Sheen is elected president in 2012.

Mediation ... not winning.

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