NFL, union push back deadline

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WASHINGTON | America’s favorite sport is still in business — for another day.

The NFL and the players’ union decided Thursday to keep the current collective bargaining agreement in place for an additional 24 hours so that negotiations can continue.

“The parties have agreed to a one-day extension,” federal mediator George Cohen said in a one-sentence statement after the sides met with him for about eight hours. The CBA was set to expire at midnight, which would likely have prompted the first work stoppage since 1987 for a league that rakes in $9 billion a year.

“For all our fans who dig our game, we appreciate your patience as we work through this,” union executive director DeMaurice Smith said as he emerged from the talks. “We are going to keep working. We want to play football.”

Said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as he left: “We are working as hard as we can.”

Allowing the CBA to expire could put the two sides on the road to a year without football, even though opening kickoff of the 2011 season is still six months away. The labor unrest comes as the NFL is at the height of its popularity, breaking records for TV ratings: This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched program in U.S. history.

If the CBA expires, the owners could lock out the players, and the union could decertify to try and prevent that through the courts — something the NFLPA did in 1989. It formed again in 1993.

NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said the sides had “good discussions and exchanges,” and “we’re going to be back here (Friday) morning.”

A person with knowledge of the talks said the 24-hour extension was an opportunity to decide whether there would be a willingness to extend negotiations further.

The person, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the talks were supposed to remain confidential, said the sides were apart on economics, but have agreed on other topics. The person would not say what the two sides do agree on.

Washington Redskins player representative Vonnie Holliday cautioned that the two sides are “still apart” on a pact to replace the current CBA. “I don’t see how we can be that close right now unless somebody is going to pull a rabbit out of the hat,” he said. “I just don’t see it.”

While the league and players’ union met for a 10th day with Cohen, even President Barack Obama weighed in when asked if he would intervene in the dispute.

“I’m a big football fan,” Obama said, “but I also think that for an industry that’s making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way and be true to their fans, who are the ones who obviously allow for all the money that they’re making. So my expectation and hope is that they will resolve it without me intervening, because it turns out I’ve got a lot of other stuff to do.”

Besides Goodell, also on hand for the NFL were Pash, outside counsel Bob Batterman, New York Giants owner John Mara, Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, Washington Redskins general manager Bruce Allen and several other league executives. Mara and Murphy are members of the league’s labor committee, which has the authority to call for a lockout if a new agreement isn’t reached.

“We’ll stay at it as long as it takes,” Pash said as the day began.

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