There will be NFL football in 2011. Simply because there's no compelling reason for football not to be played. There will be a new labor agreement in place by the start of the regular season. There'll be no shortage of blustering, posturing, threatening, accusations, slanders and general incivility, but there will also be football. OTAs, mini-camps and maybe even a chunk of summer torture could be on the endangered species list, but there will be football in September.
Ultimately, no one can afford no football. The NFL has never been healthier, or more dominant. The league pulls in nine billion dollars in annual revenue. Television ratings are boffo, and advertisers trip over each other to attach themselves to the NFL shield. Franchise values continue to appreciate at a rate that shames your and my 401-K, and player compensation keeps pace.
This thing ain't "broke." And there's just insufficient motivation on either side of this dispute to fix it by trying to kill it. This will get resolved for the same reason the current battle lines have been drawn--greed.
In this case, Michael Douglas was right. Greed is good.
This will get settled for the same reason the Cold War never got nuclear hot. Neither side is crazy. (Unlike today's geopolitical landscape, but we'll save that for a different discussion.)
The issues here are not seminal or insurmountable. The 18 game regular season will happen, despite my growing doubts that it's actually good for the game. Player salaries as a percentage of gross revenues? In this industry, employees are the product.
It's critical to remember that any work stoppage will not be a strike. The term is "lockout." That's on the owners. They are essentially asking the players to save them from themselves. The owners willingly entered into the CBA they later repudiated. The players are asking for exactly nothing, other than for management to honor their previously negotiated agreement.
If indeed there is a lockout, casual, uninformed fans will undoubtedly blame it on "rich, spoiled, unappreciative, ungrateful players." As a sports/talk radio host, I can hear the callers now. Wrong, Any possible interruption in the NFL calendar will be solely the owners' fault. I'm going to say it, categorically. In this particular dispute, the players are almost completely right, and the owners are almost completely wrong.
Here's why sanity will prevail. Roger Goodell is not nuts. And unlike his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, the Jolly Roger truly loves football and embraces his obligation as caretaker of the game, as opposed to simply loving being Commissioner. Likewise, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is a velvet glove that cloaks an iron fist, as opposed to simply being an iron fist like the late Gene Upshaw. (I will say this. In any negotiation, I would not want to be the guy across the table from DeMaurice Smith. Dude is good.)
It will get shrill. It will get ugly. But it will get done. Because unlike the NBA's business model, the NFL is not "broke." There simply is no compelling reason for football not to be played in 2011.