MINNEAPOLIS — The federal magistrate judge who is mediating the labor dispute between NFL owners and players has scheduled another session for July 19 in Minneapolis.
Judge Arthur J. Boylan set the meeting on Saturday, just before starting his vacation. But he also made clear that both sides should continue their own sessions in the interim as they work toward a new collective bargaining agreement.
The principals in the fight over how to split up over $9 billion in revenue met all week in New York, but still have not reached a new deal as the lockout has dragged on for more than four months.
The urgency, it appears, is starting to heat up. Several teams have already canceled their traditional out-of-town portions of training camp and the Hall of Fame game between Chicago and St. Louis is less than a month away.
Boylan ordered both sides to continue mediation without him "in an effort to define and narrow the differences between their respective settlement positions." He also ordered attorneys from both sides to be ready to meet with him on the evening of July 18 "for an in-person agenda-setting session" that presumably would set the stage for meaningful, fruitful talks the following day.
After putting in two days in New York this week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players' Association chief DeMaurice Smith announced that they were taking the weekend off. They plan to resume negotiations on Monday in what will be the first mediation sessions with owners and players present that does not include Boylan.
If the league and players have not reached a deal by the time they are scheduled to meet with Boylan in Minneapolis, it could be bad news for training camps and perhaps even preseason games. The Giants, Jets and Ravens have already announced that, no matter when an agreement is reached, they will conduct all of their preseason work at their primary facilities rather than leave for various college campuses, a time-honored tradition that coaches embrace as a team-building exercise and small towns across the country depend upon for tourism revenue.
The Vikings have already said that if an agreement is not reached by July 18, they will have to cancel training camp at Minnesota State University in Mankato, where they have held two-a-days every summer since 1966.
And the Rams and Bears are scheduled to kick off the preseason with a game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7, just 2 1/2 weeks after Boylan's scheduled meeting on the 19th.
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