Sen. Rockefeller: Keep Congress Out of NFL/Union Dispute

Will not get resolved until the league opens its books

Sen. Jay Rockefeller
(D-W.Va.) is not happy with the NFL/union standoff that threatens the upcoming

"I think I speak for
every fan by saying that I am disappointed that it came to this.  I hope
both parties can find a way to come back to the bargaining table and resolve
their differences," he said in a statement. "As I've said before-and
still believe-transparency and good faith negotiations should be able to solve
this stalemate and avoid imposing collateral damage on innocent Americans whose
economic livelihoods depend on professional football."

Given the potential for
disaffected voters to contact their local legislators, Congressfolk
frequently weigh in on sports-related issues, whether it is retrans
impasses that threaten bowl games, signal-importation issues that separate
viewers from their home-town team in some bifurcated markets or, famously,
a big matchup between New England and New York a couple of years back that drew
lots of attention from Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Three weeks ago, in an
op ed in the Washington Post, Rockefeller said his preference was to keep
Congress out of the dispute. But his message to owners was, essentially:
Show me the money.

Over the weekend, one
ESPN analyst said that arguably the only way to goose negotiations would be for
Congress to get involved. 

Rockefeller pointed out,
by way of reminding both sides that Congress has held hearings on antitrust
exemptions in baseball, illegal drug use, and safety (most recently on the issue
of concussions). 

Unlike professional
baseball, the NFL does not have an antitrust exemption that protects some of
the owners' collective decision-making, but many stadiums are built with the
help of taxpayer money, a point Congressfolk, including Rockefeller, have made

"As chairman of the
Senate committee that is charged with overseeing sports and communications
issues, my approach up to this point has been deliberately hands-off," he said
in the op ed. But he put at least one hand on, unofficially, saying that he
thought the dispute would not get resolved until the league opened its books.

"I have come to the
conclusion that the only way to sort out this stalemate is for the owners and
the league to answer the biggest sticking point: money.

"What I'd like to see
from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners is a simple display of
good faith: Show the union your books. Don't keep secrets. If there are
financial pressures that keep you from agreeing to the revenue-sharing plan
proposed by the players, let's see the proof."

The union wanted to see
the money too, offering the absence of that information to explain the
continued stalemate. The union voted to decertify last week, allowing
individual players to file suit against the owners, while the owners locked the
players out as promised.

Among the 10
high-profile players joining a suit against the league Friday charging
anticompetitive practices were quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and
Tom Brady.

"We did offer the
union five years of profitability information audited by a third party,"
said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, "but they were not interested in
looking at the information."

Still at issue is
roughly $4 billion in TV rights revenue the NFL could still collect even with a
lockout. A Minnesota judge earlier this month called that money into question
when he ruled that the NFL had not negotiated the TV contracts in the players'
best interests
, which calls into question whether the league can tap into that $4 billion
during impasse. The judge has not yet ruled on that point.

Aiello says that the TV
rights money helps to prevent defaults on loans to build those stadiums, from
which the players get 60% of the revenue.

He also points out that
the TV deals were signed in a terrible economy, that the union praised the
deals, and that an expert had already ruled in the league's favor. "Professor
Burbank, the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] Special Master, spent
many days and hours listening to the testimony, watching the videotaped
depositions, read all the documents and ruled in our favor.  Judge Doty
reversed the decision very quickly," said Aiello.