After representatives for the players and owners met for five hours in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan in an attempt to resolve their issues before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson rendered a verdict on Brady v. the NFL, there will be a lot that will have changed by the time the two sides get back to the table.
In something of a surprise announcement, Judge Boylan ruled that the next mediation session won't happen until May 16, almost a month from now. By that time, the landscape will have been altered significantly – perhaps rightly so.
The adjournment of mediation talks have been accepted by many as a required function, but a process that neither side was willing to let stand as the final word. Both sides are waiting for Judge Nelson's ruling on whether the lockout can continue. Owners are awaiting a verdict from perennial thorn in their side, Judge David Doty, to rule on the television contract revenue case (in which the league believes it has a contractual right to get more than $4 billion in its TV payments, whether a 2011 season is played or not). Both of those decisions would likely be made and appealed by the time the next round of mediation talks resume, but both sides will know where they stand in the argument.
If, for example, Judge Nelson rules the lockout can continue and Judge Doty rules the owners can have their TV money because it was written into the contract language when it was signed, it could be a long impasse. The owners would hold all the cards and either the union would cave in to demands or sit out and get older in a young man's sport.
But, the flip side is also true. If Judge Nelson rules the lockout be removed and business as usual returns and Judge Doty rules the owners aren't entitled to TV money for games that won't be played, the owners would be showing up to the next round of negotiations without as much leverage.
As it currently stands, the big issues likely haven't been mended because both sides are waiting to find out what happens in two other Twin Cities courtrooms.
At first blush, to say the mediations have been an effort in planned futility seems obvious. Wednesday's five hours of meetings were window dressing to show that both sides are "officially and legally" serious and want the best outcome each can achieve. But there are bigger legal settings in Judge Nelson's court and Judge Doty's court.
When the two sides are scheduled to come back to mediation on May 16, Boylan may have much more sway in the room than he had recently. As with the millions of fans who are left in limbo pondering team schedules that may or may not be played, it would seem players and owners are doing the same.
We will likely find out within the next week or so what Judge Nelson thinks, at which point the losing side will immediately file an appeal that will shift the focus a few hundred miles down the Mississippi in St. Louis. Next month, we'll find out what Judge Doty has to say (he's never ruled in favor of the NFL and trebled the USFL's damage award from a Minnesota court from a paltry $1 to a whopping $3 under his judicial authority).
For now, Judge Boylan is a special-teams player. When the two sides are scheduled to meet next on May 16, he may be quarterbacking the proceedings.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.