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NFL owners, players agree to mediation

George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, will attempt to facilitate a labor agreement between the NFL and the players' union and stave off a potential lockout.
George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, will attempt to facilitate a labor agreement between the NFL and the players' union and stave off a potential lockout. (Luis Alvarez - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 8:42 PM

The NFL and its players' union agreed to federal mediation Thursday in an effort to help settle the labor dispute that is threatening to lead to a lockout of players in as little as two weeks.

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The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced that the league and union had agreed to involve the agency in their negotiations. The two sides are scheduled to meet Friday in Washington with George H. Cohen, the agency's director.

"At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under my auspices" beginning Friday, Cohen said in a written statement.

An NFL spokesman confirmed the agreement to participate in mediation but declined further comment. The union issued a written statement that said: "We hope that this renewed effort, through mediation, will help the players and owners reach a successful deal."

One source said the owners and union agreed to seven straight days of talks. The league and union declined to comment on their bargaining schedule.

Cohen's role is to help negotiators for the league's franchise owners and the union reach a settlement, but the two sides' participation in the mediation is voluntary.

"This is not binding on the parties," said Seth H. Borden, a New York-based labor attorney who is not involved in the football negotiations. "The role of the mediator is to try to find common ground and narrow the areas of dispute between them. He's going to be working with what he has to work with. At the end of the day, if one party or the other feels it's not productive, they can withdraw from the process."

The current labor deal between the team owners and the players' union expires March 4. Players and union officials have said they expect the owners to lock out the players at that point if there is no agreement on a new deal.

The owners are seeking a larger share of the $9 billion in revenue the NFL collects each year, and want to expand the regular season to 18 games. Players are happy with the current financial arrangement and are wary that a longer regular season could mean more injuries to them.

But both sides have said the 11:59 p.m. deadline on March 3 could be pushed back if they are making progress toward an agreement. Negotiations broke down last week, and one session was canceled.

"Time is short," said Borden, a partner at the firm McKenna Long & Aldridge. "That's the operative issue. . . . By all accounts, the level of trust in the relationship is not there. It's possible that someone from the outside can be just what's needed here. On the other hand, it might be too much to ask for him to work through this if there's not that level of trust."

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Mark Maske, NFL News Feed

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