- Associated Press - Friday, July 1, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The NFL commissioner and the boss of the league’s locked-out players stood together this week and addressed the league’s rookies, a picture of cooperation that raised hopes pro football would soon be back in business.

This, however, is the reality: The league’s longest work stoppage has now stretched into July, with gaps that still must be bridged before teams can be assembled and training camps can begin.

The next bargaining session has been scheduled for after the holiday weekend, putting the end point of this labor dispute _ now well past the 100-day mark _ ever closer to the preseason.

The negotiating teams led by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith met for a couple of hours Friday morning at a Minneapolis law firm with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, following a 15-hour Thursday session that stretched past midnight and gave the negotiators a short night’s sleep.

Several people familiar with the situation said the talks would resume Tuesday in New York City. The people all spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because Boylan has ordered the details of the talks to be kept confidential.

Goodell, Smith, their colleagues and constituents all appeared in good spirits as they left the office building where they met and either walked away or climbed into black cars waiting by the doors.

But they had little to offer for an update.

“We’ll continue to meet next week, and the goal is to get a deal done,” Smith said on his way out.

Said NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash: “We’ll be back at it again next week.”

Friday marked the fourth straight day of discussions, with a handful of owners and players joining their lawyers and leaders for the last two days.

The two sides have been trying to figure out how to agree on the division of revenues for this $9 billion business that has steadily grown in popularity, power and wealth over the last couple of decades as the NFL has become the nation’s dominant pro sports league.

The revenue split, a major sticking point all along and particularly over the last couple of weeks, is considered a domino that must fall for a deal to get done.

There are several other issues to iron out as well, since the two sides are essentially creating a new collective bargaining agreement from scratch. The old one expired March 11, and the lockout began the next day. That’s also when the NFLPA declared an end to its union status, a move the owners have protested as strategically convenient and have contested in court.

Among the players in Minneapolis this week were Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts and Brian Waters of the Kansas City Chiefs, with Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and John Mara of the New York Giants part of the group of owners.

For weeks, owners, players and their representatives have been crisscrossing the country, holding unannounced meetings in spots ranging from a Chicago suburb to the Maryland shore.

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