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Masoud: NBA negotiations not following NFL’s lead (Oct. 6)

Chris Masoud | Thursday, October 6, 2011

Heading into week 5 in the NFL, signs of a heated debate between owners and players are hard to find. Attendance remains at record levels, players and owners are still making money hand-over-fist and ESPN, NBC, CBS and FOX have all retained television rights.

Fans are even enjoying the integration of the West Coast offense into every offensive coordinator’s game plan, as passing yards and touchdowns have reached record highs.

I’ll give credit where credit is due. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, players and owners came together against all odds to reach a compromise (not unlike the Founding Fathers, less the powdered wigs). Both sides made concessions in the name of football and excessive salaries, but they ultimately reached an agreement that prevented the loss of any games.

The NBA could take a hint.

NBA Commissioner David Stern and the National Basketball Players Association once again met Tuesday, unsuccessfully, leading Stern to cancel the remainder of the preseason and effectively putting the likelihood of the 2011-2012 season’s existence in serious flux.

The two parties have yet to schedule a follow-up meeting, which could take as long as three to four weeks to happen, and Stern has threatened cancelling the first two weeks of the regular season. That means millions of lost profits for players and owners starting on Nov. 2, the expected start of the season.

Not to be forgotten are the hundreds of thousands of workers employed by the NBA’s 30 teams, who depend on 41 home games as their primary source of income. It’s not that easy to leave the country to sign with a European-league team just to scan tickets.

Stern may be the most ineffective of the Big Four Commissioners. No nonsense Goodell is the clear commissioner leader, followed closely by the NHL’s Gary Bettman. Until Bud Selig removes the rights to home-field advantage from the All-Star game, he’ll always be near the bottom.

But Stern may just take the cake if the NBA loses a full season. Players have already signed deals abroad. Kobe Bryant is getting ready to ink a one-month, $3 million deal to play in Italy. The preseason is gone, and a Laker (Derek Fisher) has been chosen to represent the players’ interests.

As expected, the divide between the two sides comes down to economics. Players have agreed to lower their demands of total basketball-related income (BRI) to 52.4 percent, while owners have raised their offer to 47 percent. The league suggests a 50-50 split.

Considering the 2011 BRI of $3.8 billion, that 5.4 percent split comes down to about $205.2 million, money that neither party is willing to concede. Moreover, players are unwilling to play under a system that restricts their ability to shop their talents in free agency.

Even more depressing than players not getting their “fair” cut, some teams that lost money last season are better off without a season at all. Small-market teams have expressed their dissatisfaction with the free agency summer of 2010 and the predictability of last season, and many owners have expressed a desire not to return to the current system.

So don’t expect this lockout to end as smoothly as the NFL’s. The two sides are too far apart and lack the talent of negotiators like Goodell and Smith.

As fans, we have little control over the negotiations, but we do have options. The NHL season is around the corner, the NFL and college football keep us busy on the weekends and college hoops are in sight.

In the meantime, welcome to the NBA, “Where Caring Happens.”

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu.

The views expressed in the Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.