Saturday, September 27, 2003

Sports: Dissent in the Ranks

Perhaps I've been unfair in treating the sports media's position on Maurice Clarett as monolithic. The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon thinks Clarett's case is full of holes. Wilbon even provides an answer to the charge that the NFL's three-year rule is not explicitly incorporated into the Collective Bargaining Agreement:
As far as this nonsense that the draft eligibility rule isn't really part of the current agreement as has been reported in some places, [former NFL assistant general counsel David] Cornwell points out that the NFL and NFL Players Association wrote the rule into the constitution and by-laws in 1988 (allowing Barry Sanders to enter after his third year instead of four full years). Why wasn't it in the CBA originally? Because there was no CBA at the time. The league was coming off its 1987 work stoppage. But Paragraph 1 of the CBA adopts the constitution and by-laws, including the draft eligibility rule.
I'm not sure what Wilbon means by "Paragraph 1", but Article III, Section 1 of the CBA says the following:
This Agreement represents the complete understanding of the parties on all subjects covered herein, and there will be no change in the terms and conditions of this Agreement without mutual consent. Except as otherwise provided * * * the NFLPA and the Management Council waive all rights to bargain with one another concerning any subject covered or not covered in this Agreement for the duration of this Agreement, including the provisions of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws; provided, however, that if any proposed change in the NFL Constitution and Bylaws during the term of this Agreement could significantly affect the terms and conditions of employment of NFL players, then the Management Council will give the NFLPA notice of and negotiate the proposed change in good faith.
The three-year rule was written into the NFL constitution and bylaws in 1988; the CBA was adopted in 1993, amended in 1996, and reaffirmed in 1998. The union explicitly waived their right to negotiate the three-year rule, which by extension means the rule is the proper subject of labor negotiations, and thus immune from antitrust scrutiny as a matter of federal law. If the NFL wanted to amend or abolish the rule, for instance, the union would then have the right under Article III to negotiate said changes with the league.

But what about Clarett, who is not currently a member of the NFL Players Association? Why should he be bound by a CBA he never agreed to. That's been a common argument of Clarett supporters, but it fails as a matter of labor policy. The CBA's preamble clearly applies the contract to all current and future NFL players. Clarett has no right under law to negotiate his own labor agreement. That is, after all, the entire point of collective bargaining.

Technical questions of law aside, Wilbon also defends the validity of the three-year rule on policy grounds, and questions why the NFL should bend over backwards to accomodate Clarett's impatience:
The NFL and NFLPA also found through a ton of research that players who earn their college degrees fare much better and have much longer careers than players who don't. In other words, the NFL is like most industries. An apprenticeship helps. "It's a way more mental game than people think," [Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar] Arrington said. "I wouldn't have come out [of Penn State] as a sophomore because there's still too much education involved in the game, to become a better player. I mean, Ohio State is a great program. . . .

"Why are you in such a rush? You can't let greed blind you from having a good experience in college, man. The money is going to be there. I don't know what his reasoning is. Maybe there are some people who really, really need him to make money. But I look at it like this: He's been in the financial situation that he's been in thus far, so what's another year? What's another year or two?"

He's in a rush because he didn't want to go to school and probably went to the wrong school in the first place. He's in a rush because he wanted to go straight to the pros like his boy LeBron James. He's in a rush because, just as Arrington suspects, there are folks around him who want to get paid, who have seen him as a lottery ticket since he turned 15. So the NFL, because Clarett is in a rush, ought to capitulate and take on not just this kid, but everybody who'll rush in once the flood gates are open? At a time when patrons and viewers and sponsors are demanding more standards, Clarett and his supporters want fewer standards.
It should tell you something when a linebacker makes more sense than most antitrust lawyers and media pundits.

No comments: