If the NFL and the players' union haven't reached an agreement on a new CBA, or at the minimum another extension, we've heard often that the next step is decertification of the union. This step would give the players a basis to bring an antitrust suit against the NFL. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio told us why the NFL could win the case. Follow us past the jump for more.
Last year's American Needle case was brought about by a small apparel manufacturer after the NFL reached an exclusive deal with Reebok. In this case, the NFL argued that the league and the 32 teams were one business, which would make the league immune to antitrust suits, particularly when it comes to collusion and league-wide rules (being that one entity has no one to collude with).
Of course, the result of the American Needle case was that the NFL is not a single entity, though this doesn't mean that it would instantly lose any antitrust case brought against it.
What's especially important to note is the Supreme Court's written ruling, particularly the ending.
"The fact that NFL teams share an interest in making the entire league successful and profitable, and that they must cooperate in the production and scheduling of games, provides a perfectly sensible justification for making a host of collective decisions... We have recognized, for example, 'that the interest in maintaining a competitive balance' among 'athletic teams is legitimate and important' ... While that same interest applies to the teams in the NFL, it does not justify treating them as a single entity ... when it comes to the marketing of the teams' individually owned intellectual property. It is, however, unquestionably an interest that may well justify a variety of collective decisions made by the teams."
This is ultimately what makes a sports league different from other industries - the competitive balance between members of the league that benefits both the members of the league and the league itself. It's this balance that could justify the NFL draft, limits on free agency and player movement and a salary cap. And if the NFL would win against the antitrust suit, according to Florio...
"Thus, even if an antitrust case plays out to the end, the NFL could win. And the players would find themselves stuck with the rules implemented by the league. Their only alternative to accepting those rules would be to reconstitute the union and strike."