By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2010; D08
The NFL Players Association filed a complaint with an arbitrator Wednesday, claiming that the NFL improperly negotiated its national TV deals to create what would amount to a work-stoppage fund for team owners if they lock out players in 2011.
The union's complaint to special master Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who resolves disputes that arise from the league's contract with players, contends that the TV contracts give the owners unfair leverage over players because the league would collect the TV fees even if there is a work stoppage.
"It seems like they have a $4 billion net underneath them and we have nothing to protect us," Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, a member of the union's executive committee, said in a conference call.
The union also claims that the league may have violated the terms of a 1993 settlement with the players by accepting less money in rights fees from the TV networks than it could have obtained if the deals did not contain the provision that they would be payable during a work stoppage.
The league denied the union's allegations. In a written statement, the NFL said: "The television contracts that the union attacked today were agreed to during the worst economy in our lifetimes. Far from failing to maximize revenue, the contracts grew league revenue to fund higher player salaries and benefits."
NFL officials have said in the past that any rights fees paid to the league by TV networks during a work stoppage would have to be repaid.
The union's complaint comes with owner and player representatives scheduled to return to the bargaining table this month. They are attempting to negotiate an extension of their labor agreement, which is set to end after next season. The 2010 season will be played without a salary cap, which expired after last season.
Players and union leaders have said they expect a lockout in 2011.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league and owners are seeking a labor deal that properly addresses the sport's economic issues. Owners have said the last labor agreement, which gave players about 60 percent of total league revenue under the salary cap system, was overly favorable to them.
The NFL earns about $4 billion per season from its national television contracts. The league announced last August that it had extended its deal with NBC for two seasons, through the 2013 season. Earlier last year, the NFL announced two-year extensions with Fox and CBS through the 2013 season. Prior to that, the league extended its deal with DirecTV through the 2014 season.