Not even Mary Poppins can find optimism in what’s going down right now as the NFL and NFLPA do battle, publicly, over the swiftly expiring collective bargaining agreement.

As we saw last week when the CBA was temporarily extended twice, deadlines can drastically and quickly affect the process of negotiation, but I’m beginning to wonder if the bitterness between the two sides has grown to a point from which there’s no turning back.

There’s a very, very good chance that, on Friday, the players association will decertify and the owners will lock them out. By day’s end, the union will probably have launched an antitrust lawsuit at the league and the parties will dig in for the long, legal haul.

That’s pretty much the worst-case scenario, but consider that we’re already essentially working with a work stoppage as is. Nothing much will change if these moves are made, except the two sides will have essentially turned things over to the courts.

This is why I’m still trying to stay positive: the league seems to realize that nothing good can come their way from litigation. They’ve lost their lockout insurance leverage and pro-union Judge David Doty would be the man in charge of legal proceedings. To boot, the NFL would likely be forced to open their financial books in the case of a trial.

Comments made in frustration today by NFL general counsel Jeff Pash indicate that the league is well aware that the players have the leverage, and they’re hoping DeMaurice Smith and Co. won’t step on their throats by forcing litigation and taking them to the cleaners:

“If both sides have an equal commitment to getting this deal done, it will get done,” Pash said. “I don’t know if both sides have an equal commitment. You’ve heard plenty of what I’ve heard as well. If that’s the case, if both sides have that commitment, there’s a deal to be made.”

Smith obviously came back at Pash in defence of his union’s ambitions, but the damage had already been done. Now, the owners are pissed that the players are trying to bleed them dry and the players are pissed that the owners are calling them out publicly (remember that vow of silence?).

So maybe the owners, who met behind closed doors for several hours on Thursday, realize that they’ll have to give in on Friday. Is it fair? No. Are they unhappy? Obviously. Does it suck that the players continue to somehow gain public favour despite the fact they’ve become the cold, calculating snakes in this equation? Sure. But that’s the way things have gone down.

Maybe it’ll happen that way, or maybe the league will stubbornly let the deadline pass without making concessions on financial transparency, rolling the dice in court and jeopardizing the short- and long-term future of the National Football League.

Unfortunately, it looks as though that’s exactly what’s on the verge of happening.