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Owners talk business at spring meeting as lockout continues

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL Spring Meeting is being held in the next season's Super Bowl city, as usual. The circumstances are anything but.

With the clock ticking toward July's training camps and September's regular season, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash on Monday echoed the words of New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who last week cited the fans' growing ire toward the lockout.

"I really thought he put it very well, that we're getting to the point where we're really putting our fans at risk," Pash said. "We're getting to the point where people just can't understand why there's not a deal being made. And I think in many respects the best thing for all of us to do is get out of court, get out of the media and get together, and I think Bart Scott is right.

"We're getting to the point where we're putting our business at risk, and it's our shared livelihood. We have a shared responsibility to get this done. We can't do it ourselves. They can't do it themselves. And so we really need to put the litigation aside, we need to focus on negotiations. I think there's a deal to be made, I really do. I've thought that for a long time."

While the league will address NFL Competition Committee proposals outstanding from March's annual meeting, deal with Super Bowl XLVI planning and attend to other business matters, one issue -- the labor situation -- lords over all others.

The lockout, which began March 12, is in its third month. And talks remain in stall mode as the parties await the June 3 hearing on the NFL's appeal of a district court injunction to lift the lockout, a decision that was stayed by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until it rules on the appeal.

Nine of 10 ownership types on the league's labor committee, with Patriots owner Robert Kraft being the exception, arrived for the group's meeting Monday. Kraft plans to arrive early Tuesday, as do most other league and team officials, in time for the 10 a.m. ET general session. This set of meetings is expected to wrap up midday Wednesday.

Pash said afterward that Monday's labor committee meeting included a "thorough discussion" updating the group on the latest round of mediation -- which wrapped up last Wednesday -- as well as preparing for Tuesday's general session.

Looming ahead are dates seen as potential turning points in the labor negotiations. The NFL's reply brief, responding to last week's players' brief, on the appeal of the lockout-lifting injunction is due in 8th Circuit on Thursday, just after this meeting ends.

That's the precursor to the June 3 hearing on the appeal. And the result of that hearing, and U.S. District Judge David Doty's ruling in the television rights fees case, are widely considered to be upcoming events that could spark more serious negotiations.

"It's just timing," Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy said in explaining what's preventing talks now. "It's like a lot of negotiations, it takes a deadline. And when do we reach that? I guess each side has its own (deadlines). I think at the end of the day, you'd hope that cooler hears will look at it and say, 'We need to resolve this and let's figure out something that works for everyone.' "

Pash said his fear is rulings in the TV rights fees case and the injunction appeal will only lead to more appeals and further threaten the season.

"You mentioned two court dates, well, you've got those and then you'll have appeals from those presumably," Pash said. "The players have already said that if they don't get what they want on June 3, they're going to appeal. Everyone knows if Judge Doty comes down against us, we're going to appeal. It just maintains the focus on litigation, which is not where it belongs.

"So I think in many aspects, what court rulings do is they freeze people in place, they lock you into positions, and they force you to look at that next court date and not what you should be looking at, which is, how we can get together, put these differences behind us and compromise for the good of the game going forward?"

Despite the stalemate in talks, some expressed optimism that, when talks do resume, the ability to move quickly is there.

The sides are next expected to talk at court-ordered mediation before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan on June 7-8 in Minneapolis. Real progress could come later, after the landscape of the negotiation is more defined by rulings.

"Unfortunately, we're in the middle of litigation," Murphy said. "But I do get a sense we're further along on both sides. And things can swing back and forth in terms of, they won at the district level, and we got a positive ruling from the 8th Circuit. That's gonna swing back and forth. At the end of the day, we need to sit down with the players and reach an agreement that works for everyone."

In the end, Pash said he believes the approach will be key.

"I think Bart Scott's right," Pash said. "That's the kind of attitude that we need, and I think a lot of other players feel that way as well. And if people come to the table with that attitude, with that sense of commitment, with the recognition that the best way to solve the problem is to solve it ourselves, not to wait for some judges to solve the problem for us, which they can't do -- they can't do -- then we'll come out better. All of us."

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