NFL, union agree to 24-hour deadline extension

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 11:27 PM

WASHINGTON -- America's favorite sport is still in business - for another day.

The NFL and the players' union decided Thursday to keep the current collective bargaining agreement in place for an additional 24 hours so that negotiations can continue.

"The parties have agreed to a one-day extension," federal mediator George Cohen said in a one-sentence statement after the sides met with him for about eight hours. The CBA was set to expire at midnight, which would likely have prompted the first work stoppage since 1987 for a league that rakes in $9 billion a year.

"For all our fans who dig our game, we appreciate your patience as we work through this," union executive director DeMaurice Smith said as he emerged from the talks. "We are going to keep working. We want to play football."

Said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as he left: "We are working as hard as we can."

Allowing the CBA to expire could put the two sides on the road to a year without football, even though opening kickoff of the 2011 season is still six months away. The labor unrest comes as the NFL is at the height of its popularity, breaking records for TV ratings: This year's Super Bowl was the most-watched program in U.S. history.

If the CBA expires, the owners could lock out the players, and the union could decertify to try and prevent that through the courts - something the NFLPA did in 1989. It formed again in 1993.

NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said the sides had "good discussions and exchanges," and "we're going to be back here (Friday) morning."

A person with knowledge of the talks said the 24-hour extension was an opportunity to decide whether there would be a willingness to extend negotiations further.

The person, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the talks were supposed to remain confidential, said the sides were apart on economics, but have agreed on other topics. The person would not say what the two sides do agree on.

Another person familiar with the negotiations said the two sides were not expected to resume face-to-face bargaining on Friday. Instead they'll meet separately with Cohen to hash out whether to prolong the extension - and if so, for how many days.

Washington Redskins player representative Vonnie Holliday cautioned that the two sides are "still apart" on a pact to replace the current CBA. "I don't see how we can be that close right now unless somebody is going to pull a rabbit out of the hat," he said. "I just don't see it."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Associated Press