There’s been a lot of clock watching going on over the last few weeks. Fans and media have adopted a hurry up and wait mentality, bracing for the next dose of awful news to trickle out from Washington.

But amidst the reports of verbal sparring between the NFL and NFLPA during what has now grown into a 15-day mediation process, one not-so minor detail has been overlooked. Who’s paying for these meetings?

Nothing in life is free, an adage that especially applies to anything involving the legal system. After some digging, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert determined who is footing the bill to have George Cohen of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service referee the mud-slinging between the two sides.

The answer? The fine people of America.

As far as Seifert could tell, taxpayer dollars have paid for the mediation process. The FMCS is a government agency with an annual budget of roughly $50 million, and its website states that mediation services are provided “in support of collective bargaining free of charge to the parties.” There are instances where charges are applied, but the site says those fees are “modest.”

John Arnold is the director of public affairs for the FMCS. In a reply to an e-mail from Seifert, he confirmed that the NFL or NFLPA have not paid for the services of Cohen.

“We are a U.S. government labor relations agency, and our core mission is to provide mediation services to labor and management during collective bargaining to mitigate or avert economically disruptive work stoppages. Mediation is provided with the voluntary consent of both labor and management. The Agency does not charge for mediation in the context of a collective bargaining negotiation.”

The first reaction here would be to sharpen the pitch forks and light a few more torches. Last night the spat between the union and the league turned into the equivalent of eight year olds chucking sand at each other because one stole the cool dump truck. No matter how ugly this gets, it’s coming out of America’s pocket.

That’s the rash, emotional reaction, and a few moments later sober thought should prevail. Any public funds dumped into the mediation process should be seen as a hopeful investment, because the economic ripple effects of losing the country’s juggernaut sport for a season will be a firm punch to the gut.

From September to February, restaurants, local watering holes and hotels use the NFL as their favourite drawing card. Some cities estimate that annually over $100 million worth of economic activity is reeled into their downtown core on gamedays, either through the aforementioned food and tourist related channels, or through merchandise sales and the many gameday activities. One Oakland area bar owner who has poured drinks for Raider nation since the 1960′s said a lockout for would make bars “like a movie theater without the movies.”

If the key to padlocks on stadiums throughout the U.S. is thrown away for a year, all that will vanish.