State of the Unions: NFL & MLB

May 22, 2012

San Diego -- Leaders of the MLB and NFL players unions took time out of their day last weekend to sit on a panel at the Sports Lawyers Association's annual conference at the Bayfront Hilton in San Diego.  Much of the conversation revolved around recent collective bargaining agreements between both leagues and their respective players union.  Representatives from the NBA and NHL players associations joined them on the panel.

When Major League Baseball reached an agreement with the MLB Players Association in November 2011, the biggest changes from a fan’s perspective were the addition of another Wild Card spot in each league this season and the shift of the Houston Astros to the American League West in 2013.

Michael Weiner, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the MLBPA, stated the catalyst behind the additional Wild Card was the players’ desire to increase the importance of winning one's division.

From Little League to American Legion Ball, players have been ingrained with the objective of winning their division.  With the previous Wild Card set-up there were only negligible benefits to winning the division -- an extra home game in the Division and Championship series.

With the new format, each division winner is guaranteed a position in the Division Series, while the two Wild Card teams are forced to play a single game playoff to determine who will face the division winner with the best regular season record.  This resonates with players and their lifelong emphasis placed on winning divisions.

The Astros' move to the AL West was sparked by the players’ desire for fairness in competing for the division title.  From a simple statistical standpoint, each team should have an equal number of division opponents to compete against.

The current set-up favors the 4 teams in the American League West while disadvantaging the 6 teams that must compete for the National League Central crown.  This problem will be solved next year as there will be 6 equal divisions each consisting of 5 teams.

The NFL and NFL Players Association reached a much-publicized 10-year agreement in July 2011.

Richard Berthelsen, the General Counsel for the NFLPA, spoke about many of the financial impacts for the players resulting from the new labor agreement, including the reduction in immediate guaranteed money for first round draft picks, but the improved financial standing for players picked in rounds 2 - 7.

Beyond the direct financial circumstances of the negotiations, Berthelsen and the NFLPA spent significant time working to improve the safety of the players.

Because the big business of the league has driven organizations to demand more training time from their players, mini-camps and Organized Team Activities during the offseason have become much more prevalent across the league in recent years.

With all of this activity players have had difficulty finding time to rest and heal their bodies from the beatings they endured during the season.  In an effort to give players more time to recover, the following measures were included in the most recent collective bargaining agreement:

1) The number of weeks available for offseason practice between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of training camp was reduced from 14 to 9.

2) “2-A-Days” are no longer allowed during training camp.  Organizations are prohibited from conducting two padded practices in a single day.  Teams can now only practice in pads in the morning or afternoon, with the other practice of the day including shirts, shorts, and no live hitting.

It was noted by each panelist that despite their personal roles in the labor negotiations, the individuals most responsible for the deals being completed were the players themselves, as they took a very active role in this round of negotiations.

Fans of each sport can thank both sides as we look forward to uninterrupted, highly competitive action on the field for years to come.

Please note, membership information for the Sports Lawyers Association is available at

By Chris Harker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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