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Judge to weigh lockout's merits on Wednesday

Tom Brady, above, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees

Tom Brady, above, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees say “it is time” for NFL owners and players to wrap up negotiations on a deal to end the league’s lockout. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Tomorrow’s injunction hearing before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson will have one result: the eventual lifting — or continuance — of the month-old NFL lockout.

If Nelson’s ruling in Minnesota, which may take a week or longer, deems the lockout illegal (that’s the players’ hope), only the fans will truly win. The league will get to institute its own system, which promises to be very restrictive toward free agency, until a settlement arises amid many antitrust suits. But at least a 2011 season will be assured.

If Nelson rules that the NFL is within its rights, the lockout will continue.

Both sides are poised for a bitter day in court. Here are a couple of factors that could sway Nelson’s decision either way.

The players’ side

Precedent
This is the players’ greatest strength because prior decisions have great influence in the law. In 1989, the first time the NFLPA decertified as a union, the courts stood by the dissolution. The players’ brief quotes specific language from the Freeman McNeil and Reggie White antitrust suits that support their current argument, making this a case of the concrete (players) versus the theoretical (owners). Concrete usually wins.

Immediate harm
The players claim the lockout is depriving them of training time during offseason programs, thereby increasing the chances of injury and substandard play that could affect their value in future contract negotiations. Even though most players have found private workout facilities, nothing beats team-supervised sessions.

The owners’ side

A big sham
The owners will argue that decertification was a sham and an exercise in bad-faith negotiation. The practice of union decertification is so looked-down-upon that most other industries never even consider it. Yet this is the second time the NFLPA has decertified. And it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, either; it was planned months in advance.

NLRB vs. courts
The owners made the above point to the National Labor Relations Board, which the NFL believes must first rule on the issue before Nelson makes any decision. The players say it’s a matter for the courts. But if the court lifts the lockout and, months later, the notoriously slow NLRB rules that the players’ decertification was not legit, the owners would have incurred irreparable harm.

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