End of the road: NFL owners on brink of exiting CBA?
By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY
ATLANTA The magic number is nine.

That's the number of negative votes from NFL owners needed to opt out of the league's collective bargaining agreement. Given grumbling from several club owners in recent months about the labor deal, it doesn't take a Gallup poll to project the outcome.

Owners could vote to pull out of the deal as early as Tuesday, which would trigger an uncapped year in 2010 and set the CBA's expiration year for 2011.

"Let's see what the meeting brings," Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said as he strolled through the hotel hosting the spring meetings.

"Obviously, we want to go forward in a partnership," added Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. "We'll see where we're at and go from there."

There's no suspense for Gene Upshaw, the NFL Players Association's executive director. Upshaw believes that the owners' decision to opt out of the CBA is imminent.

"If they were not going to do it, they wouldn't be talking about it," Upshaw told USA TODAY from his home in Virginia during a phone interview Monday night. "It's just a matter of when. In my mind, the sooner the better."

The pact struck in March 2006 gave the owners and the players union the right to exit the deal two years early. The deadline for either side to exercise that clause is Nov. 8, but the league has already pressed to open talks to renegotiate the deal.

In a recent meeting with Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, Upshaw repeated his declaration that the union will not concede "givebacks" while owners balk at the 60% of total football revenues paid to players.

As Bowlen put it recently, "Our labor deal is not working."

Upshaw, though, contends that while owners point to stadium costs and debts they conveniently overlook rising franchise values. He says the average NFL franchise value is $957 million, and points to the Miami Dolphins' $1.2 billion purchase price.

"When you buy a house, you go into debt using someone else's money," said Upshaw. "But at some point, you sell the house and the debt isn't an issue. Same thing with a franchise. At the end of the day, you own the asset. They can't convince us that things are so bad for them that they need the players to bail them out."

Although it is uncertain that a vote will be taken this week, the labor issue is on the agenda for the meetings. According to a league spokesman, the measure is worded to vote on whether to continue with the CBA in its existing form which take 24 votes to pass.

With just nine "nays," labor peace in the NFL would be officially cancelled.

Indy tries again:

Indianapolis is back among the finalists for a Super Bowl, aiming for the 2012 game after losing out 17-15 last year to North Texas for the 2011 game. The narrow margin of defeat lends optimism for Indianapolis organizers, pitching a cold-weather site against Houston and Glendale, Ariz.

"Just like our loss to the Steelers before the year we won the Super Bowl that's what it's about, getting back," said Irsay.

Indianapolis' bid includes $25 million in corporate donations and the concept of converting a large portion of the downtown area into an Olympic-style village. The Colts will open $750 million Lucas Oil Stadium this year, which will seat 63,000 for regular-season games and can expand capacity to 74,000 for the Super Bowl.

Irsay said Indianapolis' bid for the 2011 Super Bowl was worth $8 million more than Arizona, but fell $23 million short of the winning bid for the game at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Texas. He doesn't expect any of the finalists to outbid the competition by more than $2 million.

"No one has a stadium and was able to put up the numbers that Dallas was able to do," Irsay said. "The big thing was coming back. There was no entitlement. We haven't taken anything for granted."

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