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NFL Players Union preparing for fight

Man holds a football to be kicked.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: There's no actual game scheduled for March 3 next year, but that's by far the most important date on the National Football League's short-term calendar. That's when the collective bargaining agreement between players and owners expires. Nobody's waiting around for that to just happen, though. This week, NFL players started voting on whether to decertify their union as a prelude to the legal wrangling that'll happen if there's a lockout.

Liz Mullen at the SportsBusiness Journal has been covering the story. Hey Liz.

Liz Mullen:Hello Kai, how are you?

RYSSDAL: I'm good, thanks. Listen, without getting too far into the depths of labor law, what is happening with this decertification process of the union?

MULLEN: The union has begun the process of giving voting cards to NFL players so that they can decertify the NFL Players Association. Right now, as a union, they cannot sue the NFL. But if they were no longer a union, they could do so. So if the NFL were to lock the players out, the players could call it an illegal boycott and that's the reason they're doing this.

RYSSDAL: What are they arguing about? Obviously it's gotta be money, right?

MULLEN: It's almost always money in labor and it's certainly money in this case. In this case, the NFL wants the players to take an 18 percent pay cut. But the players don't think they should take any pay cut, because they say the owners are making money.

RYSSDAL: The NFL is like a $9 billion-a-year sport right?

MULLEN: That's correct. They're a profitable sport and the owners say they are not losing money.

RYSSDAL: What are some of the things that are in play, other than this pay cut?

MULLEN: The NFL wants to put in place a rookie wage scale, where players who are drafted are paid a set amount. There are all different things; there's an 18-game schedule which is also a major, major issue. Right now you have a 16 regular game season, the NFL wants to expand that to 18 games. But really the most major issue is the pay cut of 18 percent.

RYSSDAL: I wanted to ask you about something that I saw actually happen last week, opening weekend for the season. A couple of teams, during introductions or whatever they were, stood there on the field with their index fingers raised over their heads, the players shoulder-to-shoulder. Is this the union being one voice and powerful and all that?

MULLEN: That symbol was a symbol that they're united together behind the union. And I think they were trying to send a message to the owners that they are one.

RYSSDAL: If I could get Roger Goodell on the phone right now and say, "Hey Commissioner, do you really want to cut players' pay 18 percent?" What would he say to that?

MULLEN: I think what the commissioner has said is that they need a new system. That the current economic system that owners have -- owners' costs are going up too fast and they need a different system.

RYSSDAL: Tough to feel sorry for those guys when they're a $9 billion-, $8 billion-a-year enterprise.

MULLEN: In sports labor negotiations, oftentimes the fans don't feel sorry for either side. It's usually a battle of billionaires versus millionaires, and that's probably what will happen here if there is a lockout or if there is no football.

RYSSDAL: What are the odds then, do you think Liz, of there actually being no football season next year?

MULLEN: You can never tell in situations like this. But whenever you have one side or another seeking major change in a labor negotiation, there's always a good chance that there'll be a work stoppage.

RYSSDAL: Liz Mullen, she covers labor for the SportsBusiness Journal. Liz, thanks a lot.

MULLEN: Thanks, Kai.

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