Fate of NLL 2008 season could be decided this weekend

If the National Lacrosse League and Professional Lacrosse Players' Association cannot reach a new collective bargaining agreement by the league-imposed Monday, Oct. 15, deadline, NLL officials are holding firm on their stance to cancel the 2008 season, league and union representatives confirmed Thursday.

The two sides will meet on Saturday and Sunday at the league's main offices in New York City as they attempt to come to terms on their fourth collective bargaining agreement in just seven years.

The NLL has submitted three new proposals to the PLPA since December, with a counterproposal coming from the players' association three weeks ago.

"Moving the deadline is not an option," said George Daniel, NLL deputy commissioner and chief operating officer. "That's not going to happen. We voted several months ago, the owners did, to cancel the season if a deal wasn't in place by Oct. 15. ... Otherwise, you're going to end up chasing your tail and spending money that you can't possibly recoup."

The PLPA says the lack of communication is in part due to disagreements over actual NLL revenues.

"There's a disagreement as to what revenues should count for the determination of players' salaries," said PLPA consultant Charles Bennett. "We don't think we've had access to all of the revenues in the league. ... We can't determine a deal without complete disclosure. We've been asking them to provide that to us consistently over the last 90 days or so."

"How can we help the league grow, so the players can grow with it, is the question," said Bennett, who has also worked with professional players' associations in the NFL and NBA.

As for the league's latest proposal?

"It's not worth the paper it's written on," said PLPA vice president and executive director Dave Succamore. "There are a lot of issues [still to be negotiated]."

"We're trying to honor their deadline. But we're not going to ask the players to sign a bad deal. We want a fair deal, just like they want a fair deal," said Succamore. He noted the PLPA isn't afraid to commit to a long-term CBA, provided it also works for the players.

The latest NLL proposal put forth was a five-year deal, with players receiving a 3 percent salary increase each year. The current average salary for an NLL player is close to $14,500 per season, while the veteran max salary is around $25,000. Daniel noted the players' association would also benefit from additional revenue streams under the new proposal, including 7 percent of any expansion franchise sold, and 3 percent of the gross revenue brought in from merchandise and sponsorships.

"We think that's pretty good money, and I think most of the players probably feel that way," said Daniel. "But we haven't really received a lot of feedback other than the [one PLPA] proposal. We haven't had much communication."

"Our sense is that the players are pretty happy with the way it is right now," said Daniel. "It's part-time seasonal employment, so it's expected that they have other opportunities [to bring in income beyond the NLL]. For the most part, most of the guys have the opportunity to have a full-time job."

The PLPA's counterproposal to the league was a one-year deal that removed the salary cap for individual players. It's an offer NLL officials are not interested in.

"The players proposing to remove that cap is completely unacceptable, and a one-year deal; we don't want to be doing this again next year," said Daniel. "We want to have longer-term deals, not shorter-term deals."

The league's steadfast stance relates back to 2003, when the NLL and PLPA entered long and protracted negotiations that carried on into December. It was the same year the league was set to debut expansion franchises in Arizona, San Jose and Anaheim. And while a deal was eventually struck on Dec. 18 -- eight days before Anaheim's scheduled season-opener -- several teams went on to record significant financial losses.

Daniel said the franchises need to be planning for the 2008 season now. The league has already lost out on several business opportunities, including renewal of its primetime television contract with Versus.

"Every time a [CBA] deal expires, it's a disruption of business, and it creates uncertainty for prospective owners, corporate partners and TV networks," Daniel said. "We're not going to do a game of the week this year [on Versus] because we can't make the commitment of resources. That's something that's passed us by already, and cost us a business opportunity."

If there's optimism to be found, it's that the desire to get something done this weekend, and to get preparations for the 2008 season back on track, appears to be a shared interest.

"We'll lose some revenues at the league level, that's just a fact. At the team level, we could still have a good season [if a deal is reached], and then the league could rebound. I still see the opportunity to do that," Daniel said.

"We want to reach an agreement," agreed Succamore. "But it's got to be a fair deal."

Steve Kojima is an NLL contributor to Inside Lacrosse.