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NFL labor talks get set to head to court

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

WASHINGTON — After 16 days of facilitating talks between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, a federal mediator with a solid track record in resolving collective-bargaining disputes threw up his hands Friday.

“The parties have not achieved an overall agreement, nor have they been able to resolve the strongly held competing positions that separated them on core ­issues,” said George Cohen, the ­director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who was handpicked by President Obama.

“No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time.”

There was a glimmer of hope late last week when the NFL and the players union agreed to a 24-hour and then a seven-day extension. And despite some concessions by both sides on key issues during the week, they didn’t come close to a new deal — and they immediately began pointing fingers.

The NFL claimed the union wanted to go to court, and the NFLPA claimed the league wanted to lock out the players.

“The union walked away from the mediation process today to decertify,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We do believe that mediation is the fairest and fastest way to reach an agreement that works for the players and for the clubs. And we believe that ultimately this is going to be negotiated at the negotiating table.”

The union notified the league that it had renounced its status around 5 p.m. EST, and the league locked out the players at midnight, although it didn’t publicly announce it.

Not surprisingly, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith disagreed with the NFL’s perspective. He noted that the players were willing to slow the growth of the salary cap, saving NFL owners $550 million over four years, and also offered to give back $1 billion a year in exchange for equity in the league and its properties.

“So for them to say our path was always decertification and that we did not engage in good-faith negotiation and that we did not budge flies in the face of reason, flies in the face of facts and is simply ­untrue,” Smith said.

When the mediation sessions started two weeks ago, the NFL and NFLPA maintained a code of silence mandated by Cohen. But information started leaking out last week and culminated with both sides divulging details in an attempt to denigrate one another’s commitment to negotiate in good faith.

The NFLPA, for instance, pointed to the league requesting in its final offer salary caps in 2011 and 2012 that were less than the salary cap in 2009. The NFL, on the other hand, noted that it would continue to play 16 games each season and would not change without the union’s approval.

The details were provided in an attempt to win the support of the millions of fans who have made the NFL this nation’s most popular and profitable sport. But now the focus shifts from Washington to Minneapolis, where a federal judge — likely David Doty, who has ruled several times in favor of the union — will shape what happens next.

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