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NFL Lockout: Senator Arlen Specter Calls for Congress to Intervene

Former long-serving Senator Arlen Specter penned an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Friday that called for Congress to intervene in the NFL Lockout negotiations. The former Pennsylvania Senator from 1981 to 2011 called for this intervention because of the potential economic damage a lasting stalemate could create. He noted, "Edgeworth Economics, a consulting firm, studied the cost of a canceled 2011 season (at the request of the players association) and estimated it to be about $5 billion from lost jobs, decreased spending at local businesses and reduced tax revenue. In addition, billions of dollars in TV revenue and millions of dollars in ticket sales would vanish."

Specter continues"With this much at stake, the country should not sit back and wait for the players and owners to reach an agreement on their own. Congress can - and should - intervene to force a resolution of the dispute."

Because of the fact the NFL enjoys an anti-trust exemption, the government potentially has the legal power to yank that exemption away. Specter explains his stance: "Congress should place a special condition on the continuation of the N.F.L.'s antitrust exemption: the owners and players must abide by a settlement procedure known as last-best-offer arbitration."

He explains 'last-best-offer' arbitration: "This procedure would require the two sides to negotiate; if an agreement is not reached, each side would make its last best offer and an arbitrator would chose between the two. This arrangement creates an incentive for each side to make the more reasonable offer, lest the arbitrator pick the other side's."

To sum up, Congress has a good amount of leverage over the NFL resulting from the government-granted anti-trust exemption, and because a loss of games this season has the potential to degrade an already depressed economy, Specter believes that the time for Congress to act is now. 

On first glance, I'm all for this type of action. However, obviously, there are two sides of the coin. On one hand, as Field Gulls readers brought up and debated yesterday, I'd like to see the owners and players to come to an agreement amicably (as much as possible) so we don't run into this same problem five years down the road. If they can come to a settlement that both sides are moderately happy with, it stands to reason that a peace between the two will be longer lasting. On the other hand though, it's becoming difficult to see a real resolution to this coming any time soon and the window of opportunity for a deal to get done before games are potentially lost is closing rapidly. 

Whatever side you're on with regard to Congressional intervention here, the wheels are already in motion to an extent. Representative John Conyers (D) of Michigan has already introduced a bill that seeks to eliminate the NFL's anti-trust exemption for broadcasting contracts. Conyers explained his bill by stating, "At a time when the economy is struggling and the NFL has chosen to lock out its players, it is particularly inappropriate to allow the league to benefit from a special antitrust exemption." 

The NFL, according to the bill, ""acted in bad faith" by negotiating broadcast contracts that guaranteed it would be paid even in the event of a lockout." 

Though it looks like this bill may blow up in the hangar due to Committee Chairman Lamar Smith's opposing view on the matter, it's a start and could signal more of a push on the government's part to end this lockout. At worst, it may get both sides to take notice and get something done to avoid conceding the considerable privileges they enjoy with the anti-trust exemptions. As Arlen Specter points out at the end of his op-ed piece, "this is a good moment for Congress to act. Gridlock on other issues has left the House and the Senate with time to spare. And even the mere threat of such legislation might induce a settlement."