The players win court battle No. 1

Good news, people: the lockout has been lifted.

Bad news, people: the new league year is likely still months away from beginning.

Federal Judge Susan Nelson has ruled in favor of the players in their motion to lift the lockout. Based on what took place while in her Minnesota courtroom on Apr. 6, that’s not surprising. What is somewhat surprising is that Judge Nelson declined to stay her decision pending an appeal.

Now, the league is forced to seek a stay from Nelson or the appeals court. If that attempt is unsuccessful, the 2011 league year would begin amid labor unrest. Free agency would start and transactions would be permissible. Since that would take place without a new collective bargaining agreement in place, 2010 rules would apply. In other words, there would be no salary cap and a slew of players slated to become unrestricted free agents would only be restricted free agents.

If that attempt is successful, the lockout would continue until all further appeals in the antitrust suit are settled.

Nelson can still stay the ruling, as can the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Both decisions could be delivered within a week.

The major point here is that this thing is far from settled. The players are surely celebrating, but the owners won’t go down without appealing the living hell out of this thing. With or without a stay, the appeal with the Eighth Circuit Court alone could take a month or two. The loser of the decision made in St. Louis will surely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We will promptly seek a stay from Judge Nelson pending an expedited appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals,” said the league in a statement. “We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes. We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal.”

If you’re a fan, you’re happy. A decision to lift the lockout (even if there’s a lot ahead of us) is a whole lot better than a decision to maintain the lockout. And unless the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court find that Judge Nelson made glaring mistakes in rendering her ruling, it’s unlikely that the tide turns drastically. (Although it is important to note that Judge Nelson — like Judge David Doty — appears to be very pro-union.)

It’s only a matter of time now before the league’s legal options are exhausted and the two sides are forced to return to negotiation (whether it be mediated federally or not). When that happens, the players will have a dangerous amount of leverage. But in reality, your average football fan won’t care. The two parties can work to pound out a new CBA while football is played, meaning you’ll have the ability to ignore the entire ordeal while kicking back and watching your favorite team on Sundays.