Commentary: NFL must learn from MLB debacle – get a deal done, and fast

Now that we’ve had a few weeks to recover from the exhausting and frustrating battle between Major League Baseball’s owners and players, let’s take one more deep breath. 

 Because it’s the NFL’s turn now.

The NFL and its players association are expected to meet on Monday, hoping to agree on terms for returning to work. Similar to what we saw with baseball, the two key elements here revolve around player health and economics. It was the economic factor that held up baseball for so long. Not surprisingly, that seems to be the biggest issue here as well.

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, revenue shortfalls need to be made up over the length of its term, which is the next ten years.

Forbes recently estimated the league would lose $5.5 billion of stadium revenue if there were no fans in the stands at all this year.

Whatever that number might be, HOW to make up that shortfall is a huge question.

 This week, the owners proposed putting 35 percent of player salaries this season into escrow – basically withholding 35 percent of all salaries until certain conditions were met – so the owners could cover up-front costs this season. The players basically said, “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t even think about it. You guys are crazy.” From the players standpoint, taking that much money away from them in the short-term seems to be a non-starter.

Instead, the players want the revenue shortfall from this season to be made up over the long term, by keeping the salary cap lower than it would be in future years.

Essentially, neither side wants to shoulder the immediate burden – with the owners asking the players to free up money now, and the players wanting to spread out that responsibility out over the next decade.

And even if the money situation can be rectified, there are a plethora of other concerns to figure out. The league wants two preseason games. The players don’t want any. The players are also asking for reduced training camp rosters to make social distancing easier – in fact, they’re asking that no more than 20 players are in a team facility at one time for the first full three weeks of camp.

There are equipment questions. Questions about testing frequency. Will positive cases be considered a “football injury” or not?

Oh, and it’s not like these players are in a quarantine bubble with the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise. A breakout of any kind at any time can threaten the season.

I’m saying all of this tonight for two reasons: First, to explain the reality of the monumental task the league and the players association has, to bridge pretty wide gaps in certain areas – the most notably being money. And second, that the NFL actually has a chance here to learn from the debacle we saw play out with Major League Baseball and find resolution on time.

Whatever happens, no compromise will be ideal. Both sides aren’t going to be happy. So I offer just one piece of advice: Get a deal done, and do it son.

Lock yourselves in a room, socially distanced of course, and don’t come out until it’s all done. Don’t play hardball with ultimatums or cutting off communication for days at a time. Don’t play this out in the media, looking for sympathy from one side or the other.

Because while of course we all want the players to be healthy, and  care about everyone’s well being, Joe or Jane Fan couldn’t care less about hearing a well-paid athlete or billionaire owner whining about money – when they themselves are jobless or struggling to pay their rent.

We lost a good month and at least 30 baseball games this season to arrive at a compromise that could’ve been reached much earlier. It was ugly. It was tiresome. It was frustrating. And it damaged baseball’s reputation even before a season that may or may not happen.

Will there be an NFL season this year? I certainly hope so, but really, who knows?

But in the process of deciding fair and equitable guidelines, just don’t string us along and hold everyone hostage. It’s a terrible terrible look.