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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

League loses anti-trust case in Supreme Court


Advertiser News Services

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow carries the ball during a running drill as the team takes part in a practice at the Broncos' headquarters in Englewood, Colo.

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI | Associated Press

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday in a closely watched case that the NFL cannot act as a single business in negotiating deals such as selling jerseys and caps.

The decision in the suit brought by American Needle reversed a lower court's ruling.

American Needle, an Illinois apparel maker, provided merchandise for individual NFL teams until the league signed an exclusive 10-year deal with Reebok in 2000.

The NFL had hoped the court would grant it broader protection from suits on antitrust grounds. Now it will remain open to that criterion, as is every sports entity other than Major League Baseball, which has had a broad antitrust exemption for decades.

American Needle's argument was that the NFL is a collection of separate businesses that compete with one another and thus improperly limited competition by contracting with Reebok.

Wrote Justice John Paul Stevens: "The teams compete in the market for intellectual property. To a firm making hats, the Saints and Colts are two potentially competing suppliers of valuable trademarks."

Stevens made a distinction between the cooperation necessary for the league to function and the fact that the teams are independent businesses. He wrote a "nut and a bolt can only operate together," but that doesn't exempt deals between nut and bolt manufacturers from antitrust scrutiny.

The matter will head back to district court, which must rule based on the Supreme Court's ground rules.

Many legal experts considered the case a long shot for the NFL. Its implications are unclear but certainly would have been greater if the ruling had gone the other way. In theory, the resolution of the NFL's status could ease the path to revived collective-bargaining talks.

The players' union hailed the decision, but the NFL rejected a link between it and ongoing talks with the union.

"We remain confident we will ultimately prevail because the league decision about how best to promote the NFL was reasonable, pro-competitive, and entirely lawful," the NFL said in a statement. "The Supreme Court's decision has no bearing on collective bargaining, which is governed by labor law."

MEETING

OWNERS WILL MEET TODAY IN TEXAS

Ready for an outdoor Super Bowl in cold, possibly snowy weather? Thinking that new overtime rule adopted for playoff games should be used in the regular season, too?

NFL owners will discuss those things and more today in Irving, Texas.

The 2014 Super Bowl site definitely will be picked. It's widely expected to go to the new $1.6 billion Meadowlands stadium that will become home to the Jets and Giants this season, although Miami and Tampa, Fla., also are bidding.

The new stadium for the New York City area would seem like a natural site for the NFL's marquee event, especially with league headquarters in Manhattan. Plus, the league has rewarded cities for building expensive new stadiums by giving them a Super Bowl.

But there's a fundamental problem: the Meadowlands doesn't have a roof and temperatures are usually in the 20s during early February in East Rutherford, N.J. There's even a league rule aimed at ensuring good weather, either by playing in a warm climate or by having a roof; the fact it was waived for this bid shows what a shoo-in it might be.

As for overtime, when owners last met, in March, they voted to change the sudden-death rule so that if a team losing the coin toss immediately gives up a field goal, they still get a chance to score and either tie it or win but only in the playoffs.

There's a sentiment that if the rule is good enough for the postseason, it should be done in the regular season.

"It is on the agenda for a 'possible vote' after consultation with the clubs," said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. "In March, there were a number of clubs who wanted to discuss it at the May meeting, and we will see if this leads to a vote on the issue."

Owners also will talk about the proposed sale of the St. Louis Rams.

CONCUSSIONS

COMMITTEE BLASTS RECENT RESEARCH

A congressional committee criticized the NFL's research into equipment, particularly helmets, questioning if player safety is indeed being given top priority in an "infected system that needs to be cleaned up."

The House Judiciary Committee also expressed dissatisfaction at a Manhattan, N.Y., forum yesterday with how the league is dealing with retired players now suffering from traumatic head injuries.

Reps. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., and Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., questioned Drs. Richard Ellenbogen and Hunt Batjer, the new co-chairmen of the NFL's head, neck and spine medical committee. Sanchez and Weiner wondered why Ellenbogen and Batjer do not have stronger roles in gathering data about equipment.

Weiner asked: "Shouldn't the question be what's best for the players, protection for the noggin that's of the highest quality?"

Ellenbogen and Batjer were hired by the league in March, and Batjer said they will become "heavily involved" in collecting information on helmets.