On November 14 last year, the National Basketball Players Association transformed into a trade association. The nuclear option, so to speak, did not end all chances of basketball being played in the 2011-12 season. Less than two weeks later, on November 26 after 15 hours of negotiations between the NBA owners and lawyers representing the players, a tentative deal was reached.
Basically, the opposite of this:
If decertification is option of choice…kiss season goodbye. Seems early for this move and still need to be educated on how it would work.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) November 23, 2012
Another option for Fehr — a worst-case scenario for any hockey fan — would be decertifying the NHLPA. But that’s a complex procedure that guarantees the players nothing, and guarantees not only no hockey for this season, but likely next as well.
The nuclear option can mean a lot of things. Basically as you know by now, there has been the threat of decertification among some NHLPA members. Ryan Miller sent an email to the Globe and Mail which presumably set off a number of Wednesday night barroom arguments between fans with different theories on how the NHL should be run.
Apparently, decertification ends the terms collectively bargained between the union and the league. That means salary caps, escrow, but also pensions and benefits. The draft and free agency. Guaranteed contracts. Essentially, it would be a chaotic system.
But we’ll likely never get there. It’s in the league’s interest to have a union to negotiate with:
“Now, the purpose of the union is not so much to prevent exploitation, but it’s really to protect the owners,” Ron Klempner, associate general counsel of the NBPA, said in May. “The purpose of decertification, if we do it the next time, will be because the collective-bargaining process has pretty much run its course in professional sports,” he added.
Certainly, many of the elements of a chaotic system where players negotiate independently with teams do benefit the players, particularly the upper-echelon stars. It’s probably better for the fans, too, at least the “no lockouts” policy. For some of the third and fourth liners in the league, well, you know how at least a few fans have said that they’d play hockey for free? That just may become the case in a nuclear winter scenario.
But we won’t get to that. The threat of decertification has been talked about prominently in the hockey media for the last couple of days, but whether the players follow through on the threat depends on the NHL’s reaction. Judging by Darren Dreger’s tweet on the matter last night, linked above, they’re pretty scared and are looking to frame the discussion in a way that equalizes the union carrying out their threat with no season.
However, that would only be if this matter went into the courts. More likely, the threat is being conjured up in a way to get the owners back to the bargaining table. Why would it do that? I’d highly recommend this piece by Gabe Feldman over at Grantland last year about the NBA. His summary, or why the NBPA dissolving could be considered a note of optimism for basketball fans, is that “the owners might have been willing to cancel an entire season to get a better CBA for future years, but are they willing to cancel an entire season while also risking three-times damages under antitrust law?”
It’s riskier for the owners if decertification is carried out. The quote from Klempner above shows why. Pro sports unions serve a different purpose than their original intent, one looking at preserving the status quo, allowing owners to preserve stability in exchange for widespread pension and medical benefits. The beneficiaries of a union are the players who are in the lower rungs, talent-wise. The NHL broke the PA last time around by raising minimum salaries, and the effect of the salary cap, seven years later, is that third and fourth line players are making way more than they deserve. In the NFL, where the union has significantly less power, the star quarterbacks make a lot more than the long snapper.
The point of this post, however, isn’t to showcase my amateurish knowledge of sports and trade law. Mostly, I’m fascinated by how the NHL lockout has mirrored the NBA’s of last season. Decertification rumours don’t mean the end of the 2012-13 NHL season as we know it, since the NBA recovered in time for a memorable 66-game season plus one of the best playoffs. There are so many marketable young stars in the NHL right now, as there are in the NBA, that there’s no reason for the league to drag this out into a year-long labour battle in the courts rather than at the bargaining table. I’m curious to see the owners’ next move, or a more official response to this development that happened after the latest talks broke down.