KAPALUA, Hawaii -- NFL owners ended their meetings Wednesday
still divided over revenue sharing, a division that is holding up
serious negotiations on renewing their labor agreement.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said there had been some progress
after declaring at the start of the meetings that negotiations were
at "a dead end."
But at least one key owner, Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney, indicated
little had been done to reach any agreement on a formula for
contributions to the player pool under the salary cap. Five
high-revenue teams -- Dallas, Washington, Houston, New England and
Philadelphia -- contribute a lower percentage to the players'
benefit package than the rest of the 32 teams.
"Not really," Rooney said when asked if there had been much
accomplished this week on the issue.
On Monday, Tagliabue indicated the deadlock was between the NFL
Players Association and the owners. But other than a short phone
conversation, he had no contact during the week with Gene Upshaw,
executive director of the NFLPA, and on Wednesday he shifted the
burden to the squabble among the owners.
"I think we've made some significant progress internally on the
collective bargaining issues we're facing," Tagliabue said in his
wrap-up news conference. As a result, he said, the owners would
meet April 19 in Atlanta for further discussions.
The owners and the union have agreed to broaden the formula for
the salary cap from what is known as "designated gross revenue
(DGR)" to "total football revenue." Tagliabue said, that instead
of the current 88-90 percent of total money going into the cap,
that figure would increase to between 92 and 93 percent.
The labor contract does not expire until 2008. But the actual
deadline comes a year earlier because under the contract first
agreed to in 1992, 2007 would be without a salary cap, a point
neither side really wants to reach.
The NFL's disagreement with the union is over the percentage
that goes to the players, currently 64 percent of the DGR. Upshaw,
who is vacationing in Hawaii, said Wednesday the owners want to cut
that to 57 percent because the total pot is bigger, and the players
are currently asking for 65 percent.
He also indicated those are negotiating figures.
"We'll find a way to get it done," he said. "It just that we
have an opportunity now and we may have to pass on it because the
owners can't seem to agree among themselves."
Most of the meetings were centered on the dispute over revenue
sharing, which also dominated last year's spring meetings in Palm
Beach, Fla. From comments on both sides -- Jerry Jones of Dallas
among the high-revenue teams and Rooney and Indianapolis' Jim Irsay
among the smaller-markets -- it appeared that little has been
resolved since then.
There also was little done to alter playing rules.
The rules-change which would have had the biggest impact was
voted down -- a proposal to include "down by contact" calls in
instant replay. It received 20 votes, with 24 necessary, although
Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition
committee, said he thought it would be approved in the future.
"It involves one of the most important plays in the game:
change of possession," McKay said of the proposal, which would
allow reviews of fumbles that take place after the whistle has
Tagliabue also said the league is reviewing a number of
scenarios for the prime-time part of its television package. CBS
and Fox already have agreed to pay a total of $8 billion over six
years for the Sunday AFC and NFC rights.
He suggested it was possible the traditional Monday night
over-the-air rights could be replaced by cable, with the Sunday
night game going to a regular network.
"We've looked at ESPN for Monday nights, other networks for
Sunday nights or Monday nights, ESPN for Sunday nights, split
packages on Monday nights."
Switching networks on Sunday and Monday nights also is possible,
particularly with the league's desire to have some flexibility in
moving games from the afternoon to prime time. Such time switches
work far better when they are Sunday afternoon to evening rather
than Sunday to Monday night.