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Solving the philosophical debate over player pay


At the core of the current labor dispute isn’t the question of how much money the owners will take off the top or how much the players will share in any amounts that exceed the league’s obviously conservative revenue projections. The real debate centers on whether and to what extent the players will continue to get roughly 50 cents of every dollar that passes through the cash register as the NFL continues to enjoy annual growth in total revenues.

If the players and owners operate as partners, the answer is easy. Yes, a 50-50 split is fair and appropriate.

If the owners are the bosses and the players are the workers, the bosses eventually are going to wake up and say, “We can get away with paying these guys a lot less than 50 cents on the dollar.”

Actually, that’s essentially what the owners decided after the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement began to take root. The bottom line, in our view, is that the owners think the players are getting too much of the bottom line.

And so, as the revenue grows, the owners will prefer to focus the discussion on total dollars, which will continue to grow. In turn, and as demonstrated by the letter sent from the NFLPA* to Roger Goodell on Saturday, the players will focus not on dollars but on percents, complaining that they’ll be getting much less of the total money than they used to receive. The players contend that they have gotten 50 cents from every dollar for the past 20 years, and they have no reason to believe that shouldn’t continue, no matter how large the dollars become.

The challenge for George Cohen or anyone else who finds himself or herself in the middle of this tug-o-war will be to find an acceptable middle ground. And that’s where it’s important for the owners to demonstrate that a fixed percentage of every future dollar earned will be devoted to stadium construction and maintenance. For example, if the owners commit to diverting 10 cents per dollar to stadium costs and other expenses that the parties agree to share, the players probably would be willing to take 45 of the remaining 90 cents, since they would still be splitting the rest of the money on a 50-50 basis with the owners.

It seems like it shouldn’t be that simple, but it really is. Once we strip away the mumbo jumbo and the double talk, it all comes down to the costs that the owners and the players will agree to share, and the manner in which they’ll share whatever is left over. So the negotiation should hone in on determining the costs that will come out of both parties’ pockets, and then the rest should be split equally between the players and the owners.

Now, let’s make it happen. Before the amount that the parties will have to split gets much smaller.