With all due respect to Vince Lombardi, winning isn’t everything – at least in negotiations. Both sides may not win every point, but by compromising on issues, they can come to an agreement that benefits everyone.
Granted, the NFL CBA negotiations of 2011 pale historically to “The Great Compromise” of 1787 which led to equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House of Representatives. Virginia had proposed representation based on a state’s population, while New Jersey had proposed on behalf of the smaller states equal representation. A log-jam ensued until both sides worked together and agreed to what was called “The Great Compromise,” thus creating the structure of representation that has been in place for more than 220 years.
Now back to the future with another call to compromise. In a conference call with Detroit Lions season ticket holders this week, Goodell described how an agreement with the players will be reached and what a win will look like.
“Win, to me,” he said, “is when all parties compromise and all parties get what they need, not what they want. That is what we need to get back to doing. That is why this is only going to happen through a negotiation. Hopefully, we have been clear about the priorities we have for the game and how we are going to continue to grow this game.”
Following is the complete transcript:
COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL CONFERENCE CALL
DETROIT LIONS SEASON TICKET HOLDERS
Thursday, May 19, 2011
It is great to be with you. I thank you for the opportunity. To the season ticket holders, thank you for your support. I know that the Lions organization, from the Ford family to Tom Lewand and all the way through the organization, is working at every level to improve the quality of what they do. I know they share the same theory I have which they believe in ‘better.’ Coach Schwartz and Martin Mayhew believe in the same thing. They want to improve the product on the field and in the stadium and make sure you understand how important you are to all of us. I salute them for giving us this opportunity and I look forward to hearing your questions. I am sure you have questions across the board.
I have done several of these, close to half of the clubs already. It is a great experience for me. I look forward to hearing what you have on your mind.
On the status of the work stoppage:
The lockout is in place. There is a hearing before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 3. The reality is what I have said repeatedly going back months if not years that this will be resolved through collective bargaining and through negotiations. It is not going to be resolved through litigation. It is delaying the process. It is time for us to get back and negotiate. It is important for us to resolve these issues to ensure a full season. We are continuing to make plans for a full season but time is running short. We need to get back to the bargaining table. The union’s attorneys have pursued a strategy that ultimately is bad for the game of football. It challenges many of the aspects of the game that are what fans and I love about the game – the competitiveness of the game and the ability for us to be successful in small markets as well as large markets. We have to make sure that we defend the structure of this league but we also have to make sure we are open minded enough to address issues in collective bargaining that can reach an agreement that is good for the players, good for the clubs but most importantly good for the fans and the game of football long term.
On employing replacement players if an agreement is not reached prior to the start of the 2011 season:
We have not discussed a strategy of replacement players. It is not our focus. We want to get an agreement that is good for the players, good for the clubs and good for the game in the long term. It is not part of our strategy. I still believe that if we worked, if we were committed to it and if we got back to the negotiating table in clear negotiations with a clear intent of reaching an agreement, we could do so. It is my continued hope and focus.
On the enhanced season:
We have proposed, as part of the March 11 proposal to the players, that we would implement health and safety changes to the game immediately. In the change of the season structure, we are obviously aware of the impact it can have on the players. We want to make sure we address that. By implementing that now, we could see the effects of it and we could evaluate it and make the smart decision long term about 18-and-2 versus 16-and-4. It is the right way to do this. With the players, with consideration of the health and safety factors and with all of the other business issues and competitive issues, if we are going to go to a restructured season, we want to do it the right way and we won’t do it unless we can. That means not rushing it in this season. It is something that we need to take the time and go through all of that evaluation and do it the right way.
On officiating, specifically the play involving Calvin Johnson in the Lions’ Week 1 game at Chicago
Calls during any game impact the outcome of a game. That is why officiating is so important and consistency of NFL officiating is so important.
It is important to go back to three elements to any catch: No. 1, you have to secure and control the ball in your hands; No. 2, you have to maintain that control when you have two feet down or any other part of your body other than your hands; No. 3, you have to make sure that – this clarification we will add to the rule book – you must control the ball long enough after No.1 and No. 2 have occurred. It is something that we have oftentimes looked at in our rules. We have looked at it through the Competition Committee. Controlling that ball after you establish the first two aspects of that for a period of time is where the element of judgment comes in. Our Competition Committee and our football operations group, including on the club level, have all felt like we should make sure the player has to maintain it for a period of time after the first two elements have been in control.
More on officiating:
What people want is consistency in the rules. Any time there is judgment that is when you sometimes get the inconsistency. If you are a fan of one team, you are looking at it from one perspective. If you are a fan of another team, you are looking at it from another perspective. You want to try to make it as black and white as possible and you want to make sure it is as consistent as possible from game to game. That is the effort, always to do that. This rule clearly and pass interference are ones that we have always tried to sharpen to make sure it is as black and white as possible. It is why our Competition Committee at the end of the year goes through months of evaluations of those rules that may not be clear, could be clearer, could be more easily officiated or should be changed from a competitive standpoint.
On whether a lockout would not hurt the “powerful” teams:
I think that a lockout hurts every team in the NFL. It is not good for the clubs, it is not good for the players and I don’t think it’s good for the game. You want to do everything you can to avoid that. We need an agreement. We need to have the system issues addressed. We need to have a number of other issues that have been identified over the last couple of years addressed in a responsible fashion. So at the end of the day we have a collective bargaining agreement that’s broad and that would allow the competitiveness of our game to continue. I think a number of factors have been raised as this uncertainty continues, as one example, if you have a first year coach, as has been raised by a number of fans, they don’t have the ability right now to be working with their players and implementing their system. That has a negative impact on them, so I think there are a variety of things you could say: without the certainty and without the ability to be in camps and working, that’s going to have an impact on the quality that’s why need to get to this agreement sooner rather than later.
Why should I continue to believe the NFL and what you guys say about the lockout and the financial terms when every court case so far has gone against you?
I don’t agree with you point that every court case has gone against us. There was a decision earlier this week that clearly stated that the decision in the district court needs to be viewed and we’ll go through the hearing, but it was very clear about some of the issues that we have raised in our appeal. Second, another case that was recently raised on this front — the TV case — and we won that in front of the Special Master and we are still going through the process in that case. We have several other cases that we have been fighting for two and a half years and at different stages of litigation, you lose, like the StarCaps case, and ultimately, we won that. We were right on the law and we were right on the policies. I don’t agree that our position has been weakened in litigation, but I also don’t believe that litigation is the ultimate determinant. It is how you run your business and how you run your league and I think we’ve done that in a respectful fashion, a professional fashion. I think the results dictate for themselves and we’ll continue to do things the right way and while I understand your frustration I certainly hope at the end of the day, we’ll win fans over by doing things the right way.
At what point does an agreement need to be reached so that we can have a complete season as opposed to a shortened season?
There is no specific drop-dead date. But going to this uncertainty, it’s not just can we have a full season, but can we have the same quality of season? Can we insure the competitiveness of our game, the fact that players are prepared to play, that we have a reasonable free-agency period? All of that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later and in the context of a collective bargaining agreement. That’s why we suggest, getting back to the table. Let’s get back in and negotiate to address these issues so that we can insure that kind of quality football game that you can expect.
There was a session earlier this week where it was said that you made a new offer, but we are now hearing that no negotiations are scheduled for the next three weeks. Would you like to get back in before that?
We are restricted in what we can talk about as part of the mediation. The judge has asked us to keep that confidential so I can’t address anything specific there other then saying that I believe negotiations are going to be the resolution. We are prepared to continue the negotiations. We are under instructions from the court. They determine when the mediation sessions are, but I can assure you that we will work, as we did back in February in mediation when we met for 17 days in a very limited period of time. We will continue to do that and that’s the kind of focus that’s going to be required to get to an agreement.
I’d like your opinion as to how free agency is going to work out – particularly whether it’s four or six years to unrestricted free agency.
The system in 2010 without a salary cap, was six years to unrestricted free agency, prior to that we had four years to unrestricted free agency. The bottom line is that’s one of the system issues that has to be addressed in the context of collective bargaining. I think it is reasonable that we have a salary cap. I think it has been good for the game. I think it’s also reasonable that we have free agency rules that result in limited free agency with a chance for players to move but also a consistency among the 32 clubs and an ability to make sure that we have a competitive product. I think that’s been the beauty of our rules. It’s why you as Detroit Lions fans have such optimism going into the season. The team has made some great moves and there’s a hope that they can go all the way to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl. That hope exists in every NFL market. We’ve proven that. It’s the kind of thing that we want to have balance for: proper free agency rules with proper salary cap rules and other system issues that will keep the competitive integrity of the game.
On how damaging it would be if no games were played on 9/11 anniversary:
The 10th Anniversary of 9/11 is not only an important date for the entire country but those of us in New York, Washington and Western Pennsylvania. I think the broader issue is that not having football is damaging not only to the NFL, the 32 clubs, the players and, of course, the fans. And I think it’s our job to continue to bring great football to our fans, that’s why we have to get back to the table and make sure we resolve our differences and get that done. I think time is running short. I want to be playing on not only the weekend of 9/11 and the anniversary of that important date in our history, but throughout the season.
On why Bill Ford Jr. wasn’t involved in labor meetings:
We have a 10-club labor committee, we call it the CEC. I agree with you about my respect for Bill Ford Jr. and Bill Ford Sr. and their history of collective bargaining, I speak to them frequently to take their experience and whatever they can offer to help us. I can tell you that all 32 clubs are incredibly involved in this process, they’re informed, we meet regularly, and we have communications with each of our clubs. We reach out not only through the committee but also individually to make sure the communication line is strong and that we’re doing everything we possibly can to address this in a responsible and fair manner. I think Bill Ford Jr. would say that.
On financial transparency:
This is why the ownership made the proposal public back on March 11. They do believe in transparency and openness. They put their proposal in front of the players, sent it to the players and also made it public. What it represented was a slight increase in player compensation from 2010 to 2011 and a 14-percent increase over the next three years. It addressed retired player pension issues and in fact had a 60-percent increase in pensions for retired players from the pre-1993 period. We addressed the issue of rookie compensation in the system. There are a variety of other things. There are close to 20 points that were put into our proposal to the players that we made public.
We have tried to be very open about the issues we think need to be addressed in collective bargaining but there is really no way of doing that other than at the table. These issues are not going to be won in public debates. They are going to be won at the negotiating table. Win, to me, is when all parties compromise and all parties get what they need not what they want. That is what we need to get back to doing. That is why this is only going to happen through a negotiation. Hopefully, we have been clear about the priorities we have for the game and how we are going to continue to grow this game.