- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The NFL’s lockout remains in place, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. That means the league likely won’t get back to business until at least next month _ and maybe much longer than that.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the lockout can stay until a full appeal is heard on whether it is legal. That hearing is scheduled for June 3 in St. Louis, before the same panel that issued this 2-1 decision.

The appellate court said it believes the NFL has proven it “likely will suffer some degree of irreparable harm without a stay.” The court also cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who ruled April 25 that the lockout should be lifted to save the players from irreversible damage. The 8th Circuit panel put her decision on hold four days later.

“The league has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits,” the appellate court majority wrote.

The decision came as NFL owners and players finished their latest round of court-ordered mediation behind closed doors, a session that lasted more than eight hours. This was the fifth day of talks in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, the first since April 20.

Neither side would elaborate on the discussions, citing the judge’s confidentiality order, but they said they planned to resume talks on Tuesday morning. Michael Hausfeld, an attorney for the retired players who joined the antitrust lawsuit against the league, said the players were reviewing a new proposal from the owners.

“It probably is not one that would be acceptable as is, but it clearly opens a dialogue,” Hausfeld said.

Beyond that, both sides stuck to their message.

The owners want to stay out of court, blaming the players for preferring litigation. The players claim they’re only interested in playing and that the owners are preventing them and fans from enjoying the game.

“We have an opportunity to resolve this matter and get the game back on the field, and that really should be our exclusive focus,” NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said.

DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL Players Association, said the players have prepared for a lockout for two years, suggesting they’re not ready to relent in light of Monday’s unfavorable ruling.

“Right now our guys are out there working out for free, because they dig the game,” Smith said.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking to Buffalo Bills season ticket holders on a conference call, said he thinks there’s “still time” to strike a new collective bargaining agreement.

“But time is running short. It’s time to get back to the table and get those issues resolved,” Goodell said.

NFLPA president Kevin Mawae told The Associated Press he was disappointed with the 8th Circuit’s decision.

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