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Enjoy Fall Sports While They Last, Lockouts Are Looming

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With the dark storm cloud of NFL and NBA lockouts looming, you better enjoy the 2010-2011 seasons; they might have to sustain you for a while.

Fall and winter is a wonderful time. The threat of heat stroke dims, the mosquitoes return to the hell from whence they came, and Arizonans step away from the air conditioner and reacquaint themselves with the outdoors. It's also that magical time of year when the NFL and the NBA lurch out of their summer malaise and begin meaningful competition once again.

With the football preseason rumbling along, it's OK to get excited. I'll allow you a moment of rejoice and celebration. Done? All right, fantastic. Enjoy it, because 2011 will be a long, frigid winter of discontent for sports fans in the United States.

Both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association are heading for lockouts, as owners and players fill the trenches to engage in what are sure to be bloodthirsty and contemptuous negotiations for new collective bargaining agreements.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, in particular, seems hell-bent on mercilessly bringing the players to their knees, aiming for shorter, non-guaranteed contracts, constricting the salary cap (and implementing a hard cap), and lowering the percentage of the league's BRI (Basketball Related Income) given to the players. It'll pretty much be a wholesale re-imaging of the current financial situation.

On the other hand, while the NFL is still likely to lock out, the players and owners are more looking to tweak things than reinvent them.

For the most part, issues revolve around income distribution, with the owners seeking a bigger piece of the pie and claiming that they're losing money, even though the value of NFL franchises has never been higher.

While they're at it, the owners would also like to institute a more rigid rookie scale. The current system is dysfunctional and allows top draftees, who've never played a game, to strong arm the team that drafts them and force them to offer bigger contracts than many of the veterans. This actually may be a point of internal contention within the player camp, as well, as there are likely to be surly vets who'd love to knock hot-shot rooks down a few pegs.

Additionally, the players are seeking guaranteed contracts, or at least some way to counteract a team's ability to throw away a player when it's convenient, while the player has little to no recourse of their own if they're unhappy with their situation.

From an outsider's perspective, it seems like the NFL has a better understanding of what's on the line. All parties involved realize this is now the most profitable professional sport in the country and that it could be devastating if an entire regular season were locked out.

Tough to tell, though. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has kept his cards closer to his chest, while David Stern came out swinging with an initial offer that was reportedly pretty insulting to the NBA Players Association.

The length of each potential lockout is uncertain. Neither is likely to last the entire 2011-2012 season, though; the only labor lockout to kill an entire season of a major professional sports league was the 2004-2005 NHL lockout. The last NBA lockout was in 1998-1999 and shortened the season to 50 games. The NFL has not had a labor-related work stoppage since 1987, with the last major hiccup in 1982.

There has never been an instance of two major sports leagues suffering concurrent work stoppages. In an already-rough economy -- where sports are a major escape for consumers and still manage to generate income while at least tip-toeing the line of profitability -- the results of a dual lockout could be devastating if they drag on for too long.

The state of the economy will play a major part in determining how ugly each labor dispute gets.

The NBA is in dire straights, at least according to the commissioner, with a number of franchises losing money and crippled by inflated and fully-guaranteed contracts that keep ballooning with each new crop of free agents. The owners desperately need to be protected from themselves by installing a hard cap, removing cap exceptions, and pre-determining salary amounts that can't be monstrously distorted by real or imagined supply-and-demand. Unfortunately, these are major changes that have a lot of ramifications for both the owners and the players.

The NFL is in a much better place and, as a result, many of the issues could be construed as "wants" rather than "needs," opening up a lot more room for compromise and quick resolution.

But, these are stubborn, powerful people we're talking about here, so there's always the possibility that things will go really sour really quickly.

It will not be a fun summer in 2011 for our friends in the NFL and NBA and come fall 2011, the accumulating crap-ball may roll down onto the fans. It's best to enjoy this year's games, because they may have to last for awhile. Time to develop a fine appreciation for hockey, Americans!