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League takes calculated risk in refusing to start 2011 league year

NFL Lockout Football

FILE - This undated photo courtesy of the U.S. District Court in Minnesota shows U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson. Attorneys for Tom Brady, Drew Brees and other NFL players are scheduled to argue Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2011, in Minneapolis before U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that the lockout should be lifted immediately because it is causing them “irreparable harm.” (AP Photo/U.S. District Court in Minnesota) ** NO SALES **


The ruling from Judge Nelson leaves no room for doubt. “The lockout is enjoined,” she writes at the bottom of an 89-page ruling.

But the league has opted not to treat the lockout as being truly enjoined (in English, “over”) absent further guidance from Judge Nelson. Lawyer David Boies told PFT Live that the NFL has decided to adhere to the status quo (i.e., a lockout) until Judge Nelson issues a more detailed ruling regarding the import of those four critical words -- and until she rules on whether the practical consequences of those four words will be delayed while the NFL appeals the decision.

Clearly, the league has concerns about sticking with the “status quo.” Otherwise, some of the teams wouldn’t have allowed the players to enter team facilities despite said “status quo.” While the unexpected decision of the Giants to allow players to work out has been heralded by some as a sign of “class,” it could be that team management has opted to take the safest path possible in response to the order enjoining the lockout.

You know, the path that doesn’t involve a perp walk.

For any team that either didn’t let players in or refused to give them access to the weight room, a potentially significant risk has been assumed. If Judge Nelson intends her 89-page ruling ending with "[t]he lockout is enjoined” to mean that the lockout doesn’t exist -- in other words, that as of 12:01 a.m. on March 12, 2011, the lockout never happened -- the response could be a finding that any team refusing to conduct business as usual is in violation of the Court order.

Boies explained that the league anticipates further guidance from the league. There’s nothing in the 89-page ruling to suggest that further guidance is coming. Instead, Judge Nelson wrote that the “lockout is enjoined,” which a reasonably prudent person could (and perhaps should) interpret as meaning that the lockout is over -- and that the league should conduct itself accordingly.

Even though the players and the league have submitted competing orders with proposed language that elaborates on the impact of the ruling, it’s entirely possible that Judge Nelson believes no further elaboration is needed. She has ended the lockout. If the league fails to treat the lockout as over, the league does so at its own risk.

At this point, Judge Nelson’s reaction to the league’s clumsy half-measures isn’t known. Soon, it will be. And it could end up being trouble for the NFL.