Better fully enjoy the 2010 NFL season. Under the current labor agreement the upcoming season is ominously referred to as the “Final League Year.” Though sounding apocalyptic, this is the verbiage agreed to in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) entered into between owners and players that applies to the coming 2010 season. On March 8, 2006 a document in excess of 300 pages was signed by the respective sides which strove for labor peace through 2012. Unfortunately, like most NFL contracts, the devil is in the details and what sounded like a binding agreement between two sides to remain in place through the 2012 season is anything but.

According to Article 58 of the CBA, “this Agreement shall be effective from March 8, 2006 until the last day of the 2012 League Year.” That would be the end of things if it were not for section 3a of the same section. There it states, “Either the NFLPA or the Management Council may terminate [the agreement] by giving written notice to the other on or before November 8, 2008.” It is now the two year anniversary of the owners unanimously vote to terminate the agreement they signed just two years prior. What was universally acceptable on March 8, 2006 became universally unacceptable on May 20, 2008. An agreement hoping to secure labor peace for six years failed after merely two.

Back in May 2008, both sides assured the public that the owners 32-0 vote to abandon the CBA six months prior to the required notification date was not a problem and that everything would be fine. Commissioner, Roger Goodell: “We have guaranteed three more years of NFL football. …The agreement isn’t working, and we’re looking to get a more fair and equitable deal.” Then player’s union representative, Gene Upshaw commented: “We will move ahead. This just starts the clock ticking.” Former union representative and Houston Texans kicker, Kris Brown: “It’s not like the threat of losing a season is imminent, because that’s not the case. We’re talking about this now but one year from now, two years from now we could come to an agreement and have an extension and all this is for nothing.”

Welcome to the middle of 2010 and all this has become highly meaningful and worrisome. Back then, Upshaw noted an email by Commissioner Goodell highlighting the owners reasons for backing out of the deal: increased labor costs, problems with the rookie salary pool, and difficulty recouping signing bonuses for players violating the terms of their contract or refusing to play. Unfortunately the brief list of grievances has grown over the past few years. It now includes a desire from owners for players to share the expenses incurred in new stadium construction or upgrades and the growing realization that retired players need to be better cared for.

Where this ends is anyone’s guess. Most negotiations like this go down to the 11th hour. Would the two sides be foolish enough to risk biting the hands that feed them? The longer this goes unresolved the more tension, frustration, concern, fear, and potential animosity will come their way via the fans who give them the billions they now dicker over. The most prosperous sport of all time stands to cut off its nose despite its face. These are heady times for owners and players, but it would be a shame if the entire League were to put a permanent stain on the shield they fight so fiercely to protect.