A legal dispute between the NFL and a former retail partner has become a Supreme Court case with the potential to tip the balance of power between the four major American sports leagues and the Players Unions. The NFL is seeking a ruling declaring that the league is not 32 separate, competing, businesses subject to anti-trust laws against collusion as previous cases have held, but a single entity immune to anti-trust suits (because you can't collude with yourself).
A ruling in the NFL's favor would be a massive shift in labor negotiations giving all American Sports leagues a massive upperhand over their Player's Unions.
Anti-trust suits have been a key tool in the arsenal of Player Unions, being used successfully before the owners even recognized the NFL Players Association as legitimate. Former Colts TE John Mackey successfully defeated the NFL's reserve clause (Rozzelle rule) in 1976 which had made player movement nearly impossible. A final major anti-trust suit ushered in the modern NFL, with the Jets' Freeman McNeil court victory over the league, bringing on the era of Free Agency and the Salary Cap.
Nearly every victory of the NFL Player's Association has come not through collective bargaining or through strike, but through challenging the league's policies in court. The Supreme Court is capable of rolling back those victories for the players, leaving them to re-fight the battles with only the threat of a strike behind them.
ESPN columnist Lester Munson paints a dire picture of American Sports following an NFL victory in the Supreme Court
• LeBron James, who had been expecting a free-agency bonanza when his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers expired after the 2009-2010 season, opens the 2010-11 season with … the Cavs, the only team with the right to sign him. Cleveland retains the NBA MVP by slotting his salary into the new league-wide scale.
• Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the hottest commodity for every opening in the NFL over the past six months, signs on to be the new head coach of the Dallas Cowboys … at a league-determined salary that will pay him far less than he'd have made if the Denver Broncos had chosen him over Josh McDaniels in 2009.
• The Ricketts family, new owner of the Chicago Cubs, scraps plans for its own cable channel because Major League Baseball has barred all such broadcasts, as well as webcasts, by individual teams.
• A young Detroit Red Wings fan who has saved his pennies for months shells out $300 to buy a replica sweater that would have cost him $80 in 2009.
• Lockouts and strikes loom large in all four major team sports as an era of relative peace on the sports labor front ends and owners begin to exercise their new power over player unions.
Whether the NFL's case will be successful and if a victory would tip the scales as far in the leagues' favor as believed is uncertain, but I'll leave off with a reminder on bashing greed in a sports labor dispute. These are many millionaires fighting a few billionaires over the average person's sports spending. Neither side is truely the little guy in the conflict.