Notebook: Vikings stadium getting upgrades

The Vikings agreed to pay for more escalators and TVs in their new stadium. Plus, a new developmental league is starting up and an appeals court is keeping the collusion case against the NFL alive.

The Minnesota Vikings have agreed to pay for more escalators and more televisions in their under-construction stadium.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority approved Friday the $1.3 million increase in design fees, to increase totals from 27 to 33 escalators and 800 to 2,000 televisions. The purchase and installation costs were not included in the $1.3 million figure.

In April, the Vikings agreed to contribute an extra $1.2 million for a bigger video board on the stadium's west end and other related upgrades. The team's share of the $977.5 million project is $479.5 million, which will be fueled by the sale of seat licenses. The Vikings also previously agreed to $26.4 million in contingency funds, some of which could return to the team if construction costs are less than expected.

DEVELOPMENTAL LEAGUE LAUNCHING IN FALL

Six teams, 40-man rosters, limited salaries — and perhaps no punts, kickoffs or extra-point placements.

A home for players who can't crack the big time to hone their skills for another shot at the NFL. Maybe even a place for collegians not yet eligible for the NFL to grow their games.

The Fall Experimental Football League plans to launch in October as a developmental league, with no NFL affiliation but with lots of intriguing ideas.

"Given the current Division I landscape in football and the collective bargaining agreement the NFL has with the union, there is more than ever a need for another platform out there," says Brian Woods, the FXFL commissioner. "A platform like for basketball and baseball players.

"Pro football has nothing. The NFL has the practice squad, but it does not develop players because they don't get into games. You don't develop if you aren't getting on the field."

Woods, an attorney who played at Mississippi and coached as a graduate assistant at Iowa State, wouldn't mind having a tie-in with the big boys, but that's not immediately on the agenda. The FXFL will field teams in the New York and Boston areas; Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Omaha, Nebraska; and in Florida. No city has been announced for the Florida franchise.

Former NFL players Tommie Harris, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, and Eric Bassey have purchased the Austin franchise.

The teams will play six games this fall in minor league baseball stadiums, with an emphasis on gaining experience. The main idea is to advance the talents of players, coaches, officials and front office executives, something NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent said in April his league is looking into for the future.

"Our long-term goal is to establish a partnership with the NFL," Woods says, "and we feel can do that on many platforms. It would give them a way to work with younger players that they don't currently have. We can help them train prospective NFL officials — in the NBA, every referee entering the league (in recent years) comes from NBA Developmental League.

"We can be a testing ground for proposed rules, too."

That's where the FXFL's creation gets particularly noteworthy. The status quo, on and off the field, will not necessarily apply.

The league is contemplating eliminating the kicking game, which might take away excitement with no kickoff or punt returns, but add fan enthusiasm for extra points, which would be a required 2-point conversion.

"We'll get a chance to experiment," says Bassey, a former Rams defensive back, "and doing a little bit of everything here."

That would include looking at college underclassmen and even high school players, a no-no for the NFL.

Mainly, the core of FXFL players will be no more than two years removed from their college careers, with the majority coming from that year's draft class. That would include players cut in training camp or those who never even got a look from the NFL.

That approach would not impact the NCAA, and the league says it won't actively recruit players who are still enrolled. But Woods explains that some players could come from the ranks the NFL doesn't touch.

"We are not ruling out the possibility of working with players who have hardships," he said. "We'll look at it on case-by-case basis. There might even be a situation for a player right out of high school who might not want to go to college."

The FXFL has a television deal in the works, Woods said, but details have not been released. Games will be played on weeknights, mostly Wednesdays, although the league is considering some Friday night contests in its Northeast locations where high school football is not overwhelmingly popular.

To enhance local interest, the league will give each team territorial rights, so the Austin franchise has first shot at players from Texas, for example.

Salaries will be $1,000 a week for the players. Coaches will draw from a pool of around $110,000 for the staff.

Woods and the team owners will work on setting up host families for the players, similar to what minor league baseball and hockey do. That saves on costs, but also makes the players more a part of the community.

"This league will provide the opportunity for players who otherwise might not get it," Bassey says. "There's those 100-150 players who don't get drafted and this would be a perfect opportunity for them. We're talking about extremely good athletes, and we will set up a platform for those guys to get an opportunity to prove themselves.

"Sometimes they are not ready to play at that pace of the NFL when they get out of school. Maybe they just need that one year or two years that we can provide. Or the environment in college might not have been a proper forum for them."

APPEALS COURT KEEPS COLLUSION CASE ALIVE

A $4 billion lawsuit from the players union accusing NFL team owners of setting a secret salary cap in 2010 was kept alive by a federal appeals court Friday as the sniping between the two sides persists long after the end of the lockout.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis partially reversed a federal judge's order that had rejected the union's collusion claim, sending the case back to U.S. District Judge David Doty for further proceedings. The three-judge appeals court panel that heard oral arguments in January disagreed with Doty on one of the union's two arguments for pursuing damages despite the 2011 collective bargaining agreement that was supposed to relinquish the union's right to sue for alleged breaches of the old CBA.

The NFL called the appeals court decision "entirely procedural in nature" and said it's "far from validating" the claims of the NFL Players Association.

"The Court specifically highlighted the heavy burden that the NFLPA faces in establishing this claim, and we remain highly confident that the claim will be dismissed yet again," the NFL said in a written statement.

The league, however, could be forced to make public otherwise-confidential financial and strategic information in court, which the union has pushed for all along.

"We are pleased that the Eighth Circuit ruled that players have the opportunity to proceed with their claims," the NFLPA said. "Through discovery and a hearing, we can understand how collusion took place. We have notified the NFL of its obligations to preserve all relevant documents and communications."

The collusion claim seeking at least $4 billion in relief for the players was originally filed in May 2012, less than a year after the new CBA was implemented following a five-month lockout. The final year of the prior CBA was supposed to be "uncapped," but the union cited public references by New York Giants owner John Mara and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as evidence that a salary cap existed and claimed a loss of $1 billion in cumulative compensation.

Dallas and Washington were penalized for overloading contracts in that 2010 season despite league warnings, and the NFL in 2012 penalized them by taking away $10 million in cap space from the Cowboys and $36 million from the Redskins.

Doty's oversight of the 1993 Reggie White class-action settlement was marked by mostly player-friendly rulings. The league lost enough key decisions under his jurisdiction that it twice tried to have him removed from his role as the sport's legal referee, alleging partiality.

But in December 2012 he handed the union a rare defeat, pointing to the new CBA language that dismissed all prior claims and prevented the players from reopening the White settlement that served as the backbone for the old CBA to sue. The NFLPA appealed soon after.

The 8th Circuit panel – chief judge William Riley and circuit judges Roger Wollman and Bobby Shepherd – has traditionally tilted pro-business, but this was a win for labor. The appeals court sided with Doty in ruling the alleged collusion did not invalidate the 2011 dismissal of claims because the settlement has been treated more like a contract than a true class action.

However, the appeals judges disagreed with Doty on this: Under a federal rule authorizing relief in exceptional cases where the party being sued disingenuously reached the settlement, the union should be allowed to argue the merit of its lawsuit despite the 2011 dismissal.

"The Association bears a heavy burden in attempting to convince the district court that the dismissal was fraudulently procured," the judges wrote. "We hold only that the Association should be given the opportunity to meet this burden."


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