The National Football League and the NFL Players Association will carry their contract dispute into a new arena Monday when the Senate Judiciary Committee opens hearings on a bill that would give the NFL a limited antitrust exemption and keep the Raiders in Oakland.
Also joining the dispute will be representatives of the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, who will argue the Raiders should be permitted to play there, and the mayors of four NFL franchise cities who want to be assured of keeping their football teams.
At issue before the committee is a measure introduced by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) that would effectively nullify a federal jury's decision last May that the NFL had acted unconstitutionally in denying the Raiders permission to move from Oakland to Los Angeles.
The bill, which would apply retroactively to the Raiders, would permit professional sports leagues to enforce restrictions on relocating franchises without being subject to antitrust liability.
It also would specifically legalize the existing NFL practice of sharing television revenues and playoff and Super Bowl receipts equally among all 28 clubs.
Another measure, sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), would simply restrict the movement of professional sports franchises to those teams that are losing money or have inadequate stadiums.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who is expected to testify Monday, was unavailable for comment this weekend. But in the past he has argued that the league needs a broad exemption from antitrust liability to protect itself from a multitude of lawsuits.
Although DeConcini's bill does not grant such an exemption, it at least protects the league's revenue-sharing arrangement, which the NFL is known to feel is vulnerable to antitrust attack in the wake of the Raiders decision. Repeatedly, NFL officials have said it is the revenue-sharing policy that has made the league financially strong, as compared with many of the other professional sports leagues.
The measure also would restore the NFL's control over relocation of its franchises. Without such control, Rozelle has said, he fears "the wholesale relocation of franchises under auction-like conditions."
But Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, says he supports the Specter bill.
"We feel that starts to address the real issue. The real issue is how do you protect the community," Garvey said.
"We feel every time the league has gained an antitrust exemption, they have used it to take away rights from players. An additional exemption would make it more difficult to find the NFL liable under antitrust laws for player restrictions."
Garvey said he is concerned about additional amendments that might be attached to the bill once it reaches the Senate floor. Additionally, he claimed, the revenue-sharing arrangements have removed the economic incentives for owners to attempt to outbid each other for the top players and have therefore helped hold down player salaries.