Prior to the decertification of the National Football League Players' Association, the players and owners bargained collectively on the rules by which the NFL operated.
Unlike most industries, the NFL was allowed to operate in such a way that violated the Sherman Anti-trust Act. The league created high barriers to the formation of any competing league so as to guarantee itself a monopoly over the professional football industry. Everyone turned a blind eye to what the league was doing because it was small potatoes -- until the cable industry matured.
Suddenly the NFL was a hot property and the rights fees have escalated to the point that the NFL brings in roughly $9 billion a year. That money is divided among the owners and players per their collectively bargained agreement.
But with the decertification of the NFLPA, and with the amount of cash that flows in NFL coffers, folks are starting to take a harder look at how the NFL operates. After the NFL instituted a lockout this spring, the players were successful in having a federal judge in Minnesota sign an injunction preventing the NFL from continuing the lockout. The players alleged that the NFL was in violation of anti-trust laws.
Now that the lockout has been lifted there is uncertainty regarding the rules under which the league will operate in 2011. Any rules the league tries to impose to limit the right of free agents to sign with the teams of their choice may be challenged as being in restraint of trade. But what about tonight's draft?
By instituting a draft, the league is preventing new players from exercising their right to choose where they work. The league is also preventing teams from exercising their right to hire the players they choose. The draft hurts incoming players chosen late in the round because they are unable to effectively bargain with their employer over the terms of their employment. The draft also hurts those players who aren't chosen by driving their wages down to the league minimum.
The draft gives the teams all of the leverage in their negotiations with the players. If a player doesn't like the offer made by the team he has two choices - he can sign or he can sit at home; but if he chooses to sit at home, he still can't choose where he plays because the team that drafted him retains their "rights" to his services.
The only question is whether anyone will have the nerve to stand up and challenge it.