|03-13-2011, 12:38 AM|
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Teicher: In the face of football uncertainty, Chiefs’ Hunt is unruffled
In the face of football uncertainty, Chiefs’ Hunt is unruffled
By ADAM TEICHER
The Kansas City Star
The NFL players are suing the owners, who in turn have barred the players from their practice and conditioning facilities.
That sounds like a worst-case scenario for the league and its labor situation. Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt stopped short of saying that but told The Star on Saturday that things could get to that point if the sides don’t strike a deal on a new collective-bargaining agreement by this summer.
“If we still don’t have an agreement by mid-August, then that’s a scenario that’s bad for everybody,” Hunt said. “It’s bad for the owners, it’s bad for the players and it’s certainly bad for the fans.
“I really view it right now as just part of the process and hopefully the litigation process will lead both sides back to the bargaining table in the near future. It’s a bump in the road but hopefully one we can overcome.
“I’m disappointed that the negotiations broke down yesterday, but I’m not discouraged about getting a deal done at some point in the future. I think what happened yesterday is just part of the process, and ultimately we’ll be able to get a deal with the union that preserves the 2011 season. There’s still a lot of time.”
After more than two weeks of federally mediated talks to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, the process fell apart Friday shortly before the old collective-bargaining agreement expired. The players sued the league in federal court in Minneapolis on antitrust grounds, seeking an injunction to prevent the league from enforcing a lockout.
The league responded by locking out the players, beginning the NFL’s first work stoppage since a player strike interrupted the 1987 season.
Hunt, as a member of the NFL’s labor negotiations committee, was involved with the negotiations.
“Last week there was a fair amount of optimism that we were close to a deal, which is why the process was extended for a week,” Hunt said. “I would say by the middle of this week there was very little movement, and those of us on the league side certainly became somewhat disappointed because we weren’t making progress, and it seemed to us the union was very eager to get to its litigation strategy.
“Ultimately, the deal is going to get done at the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the players felt they needed to go to the litigation strategy as a means to try to get leverage in the process. This litigation scenario will play out over the next two or three months. It’s impossible to predict where it will go, but I think it will lead to the parties getting back to the negotiating table particularly as we get closer to the 2011 season.”
Hunt’s comments would seem to indicate he didn’t think the players negotiated in good faith before the collective-bargaining agreement expired. Giants owner John Mara, also involved in the negotiations, said as much on Friday.
“At times during the mediation process, I do think the players negotiated in good faith,” Hunt said.
But not all the time?
“I’m not going to comment, because it’s subject to a legal challenge right now,” he said.
The draft will be held in late April regardless of what happens on the labor front, but that’s about all that’s certain for the Chiefs and other NFL teams. The season is in peril, as are free agency, off-season practice and training camp.
Hunt said the Chiefs will go about their business as best they can, though selling tickets and sponsorships will be more difficult.
“From a business standpoint, I don’t think a whole lot changes for the Chiefs in the next couple of months,” Hunt said. “Certainly there will be an element of uncertainty that will affect everything we do. Our plan is to continue to sell tickets. Our season ticket renewals and new sales have been tremendous to this point.”
The Chiefs have plans to slash the salaries of all their employees, including top executives like general manager Scott Pioli, coach Todd Haley and president Mark Donovan. Hunt said those plans won’t go into effect unless the work stoppage is prolonged.
Hunt similarly indicated the Chiefs would be able to pay their other bills for the foreseeable future.
“Certainly if we go into the 2011 season and end up missing games, it will be very challenging on everybody,” Hunt said. “We are prepared in the event it goes that direction.”
While a potential disruption to the season could never happen at a good time, this one comes with the Chiefs finally building some momentum after three miserable seasons. After winning 10 games total in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons, they won 10 in 2010 and won their first AFC West championship since 2003.
Fans also began to return to Arrowhead Stadium after deserting the Chiefs in large numbers.
“This is not a worst-case scenario for the Kansas City Chiefs from a football standpoint,” Hunt said. “Any team in a rebuilding mode, perhaps one that switched head coaches this past offseason, could be very challenged by this environment. I think it’s possible we’ll lose a significant amount of the offseason program — if not the entire offseason program — and that will make it a big struggle for those teams. With the progress we made last year, I think the Chiefs are actually in a very good position to deal with the environment we’re in.
“The fans have responded in a very positive fashion to the progress we made last year. We appreciate the support we received from our fans in 2010, and we’re excited about what the future holds and we’re looking forward to getting back on the field.”