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Courts could inject chaos into fragile NFL labor talks

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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There have been several moments when Judge Arthur Boylan -- mediator, babysitter, peace negotiator, the antidote to saber rattling -- has stepped in to break up verbal sparring between NFL players and owners.

One such moment happened during a recent negotiating session.

While a source wouldn't discuss what the particular argument was about, there was a moment when voices were raised. Boylan made a gesture with his hand signaling for everyone to calm down. The tempers cooled and talks continued in a more reasonable manner, I'm told.

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It was also Boylan who urged the players and owners to negotiate late into the night this past Thursday and into Friday morning, and as the NFL Network first reported, Boylan's efforts led to the two sides making major progress on the revenue split issue. The players and owners are scheduled to meet with Boylan again on Tuesday in New York.

Boylan has earned the respect and trust of both sides, according to player and management sources. His sense of calm and professionalism has caused the talks to stay mostly focused minus several near blowups.

Boylan has been patient but that patience will last only so long. The disgrace of the players and owners failing to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement despite being so close goes beyond the inability of figuring out how to divide billions -- it should be as simple as, to paraphrase Bum Phillips, you get yours'n and I get mines'n. The other problem is the 8th Circuit elephant in the room.

That is one of the great tragedies of the two sides acting so petulantly. Two court systems are holding off making their decisions on various aspects of the lockout case and are watching how negotiations go. If Boylan's mediated sessions show promise, it's likely the courts would continue to wait.

But if the two sides continue to fight like 8-year-olds those courts might coldly unfurl their decisions plunging the entire mediation process into chaos.

The players and owners have a chance to settle their differences without court interference, yet they are ruining that opportunity, squabble by squabble, and petty act by petty act.

The courts in waiting are the 8th circuit and Judge David Doty. The 8th is waiting to rule on the permanency of the lockout. If a ruling does occur in favor of the owners they could continue the lockout for an extensive period of time -- a major tactical advantage. If the 8th Circuit rules in favor of the players, the lockout would end immediately and the players would receive paychecks from the owners giving them the advantage.

Both sides say privately that Boylan has been updating the 8th Circuit about the progress of mediation and settlement talks. Indeed one of the 8th Circuit judges stated in open court he wouldn't mind if the case was settled.

The other court case is Doty's. He's waiting to announce damages against the owners for their ugly behavior in the TV lockout case. Doty ruled the owners violated the CBA by making deals with the TV networks, asking the networks to continue making payments to the owners in the event of a work stoppage. Doty is expected to levy heavy financial damages.

It's been advantageous for the players and owners to engage in mediation because both court cases could have a major impact on both sides. This negotiating window was supposed to keep the courts at bay.

That window might be shutting. If a deal isn't struck soon that window will be sealed shut and all court-ruling hell will break loose.

Boylan has been a miracle worker. He's been the most effective mediator through this frustrating process but his Jedi mind tricks can only work for so long.

Before the other courts tire of waiting and jump in.

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