Of all the principals involved in the NFL labor dispute, the one who has made the most sense is Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti.
You don't generally hear much from Bisciotti on league matters, and he hasn't been directly involved in negotiations with the players. But after witnessing the vitriolic back-and-forth between the two sides in the two-plus weeks since talks broke down and the litigation / lockout double-whammy effectively shut down the league, Bisciotti offered one word for the situation: embarrassing.
"I'm embarrassed that we're fighting over money, just like you would be embarrassed if you and your wife were fighting over money in public," Bisciotti said in an interview this past week in the Baltimore Sun. "Unfortunately, it is a public forum running a professional football team. Fighting over finances with my players is clearly a low point. I can't wait to get it behind us so we can get back to playing football."
Bisciotti understands there are no winners here until a deal gets done. Not the owners. Not the players. And, most importantly, not the fans. In fact, Bisciotti believes the dueling claims set forth by both sides only serve to turn off fans even more.
"I don't think anybody is going to win the war of public opinion," he said. "And I don't think it's going to matter in the long run. I think fighting turns off the fans, regardless of who is in the right or wrong."
With both parties sticking to their intractable positions and trading accusations, winning the hearts and minds of fans has become a moot point. At this point, fans have every right to blame both sides for failing to come up with a viable plan to divvy up $9 billion in annual revenues.
The two sides will head to court in Minnesota on April 6 for a hearing that could determine whether the owners are forced to end the lockout or whether the stalemate will continue.
If District Court Judge Susan Nelson grants an injunction to the 10 players suing the NFL on antitrust grounds, and if the owners can't get a stay on that ruling, then the league is back in business.
At least for the time being, anyway. The NFL would be forced to institute work rules -- likely the same set of guidelines that were in place last season, when there was no salary cap and free agency was granted only after a minimum of six years. But although players presumably would start signing contracts again, there's no guarantee the league won't shut down again.
Even if the injunction is granted, the NFL will ask the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the injunction. If successful, the league could very well reinstitute the lockout, and we'd be right back to where we are now -- waiting for a negotiated settlement that really is the only way this matter will be resolved.
There still is plenty of time for the owners and players to get back to the negotiating table and hammer out a deal that is fair for both sides. The players deserve to continue enjoying the salary gains they have made in recent years, especially in an era of unprecedented popularity for the NFL. But the owners also need assurances they can continue investing the kind of money that's needed to grow the sport -- and thus the revenue pie that the players ultimately share.
There is a deal to be made here, and at some point, that will happen. Preferably sooner rather than later. But the constant bickering between the two sides will not win either any sympathy with their core constituents, the ones who ultimately fund this multibillion- dollar bonanza.
Those core constituents would be you, the fans. You're the ones stuck in the middle waiting for a deal.
Blame the owners? Blame the players?
I'm with Bisciotti: Blame 'em both.