Americas most popular sport almost at a standstill

With a possible work stoppage looming in America’s most popular sport, the NFL and its players’ union reportedly agreed on Thursday to a 24-hour extension of contract talks.

NFL Network, in an item posted on NFL.com, was among the US media outlets reporting that both sides had agreed to extend talks beyond the scheduled expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement at one minute to midnight on Thursday night.

The threat of the first work stoppage in the league since 1987, and the fear that it could jeopardize the 2011 season, even had US President Barack Obama urging both sides to come to terms.

“For an industry that is making nine billion dollars in revenue, they should be able to figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way,” Obama said Thursday.

The two sides were meeting for the 10th straight day before mediator George Cohen.

At issue is how to divide $9 billion in annual revenue.

Team owners, who in the past have taken $1 billion off the top, want to double that figure in a new deal.

Other issues include the owners’ desire for a rookie wage scale, the owners’ desire to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games and benefits for players after they retire from the bruising game.

The expansion of the season, with a corresponding loss of two pre-season games, would raise revenues, but players worry about increased injuries and wear and tear.

Without the extension or a new agreement, it had been widely expected that owners would lock out players sometime after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.

Alternatively, the NFL Players Association had reserved the option to decertify prior to the deadline, a move that would mean the union no longer represents the players and which would pave the way for a court battle involving US anti-trust law.

“We’re working hard,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday morning as he and the league negotiating team arrived at Cohen’s office for talks with an NFLPA team led by union executive director DeMaurice Smith.

by Buford Balony

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