Mediator will try to force NBA's hand

Federal mediator George Cohen reads an announcement that the talks between the NFL Players...

Federal mediator George Cohen reads an announcement that the talks between the NFL Players Association and the NFL owners will continue to reach a deal and avoid a lockout in Washington, March 4, 2011. (REUTERS/Jim Young)

SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 12:51 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA - First it was about the 'money' and now it's all about 'competitive balance.'

Let's be honest, the NBA season isn't scheduled to start on time because the owners keep moving the goalposts on the players.

That's not to say the players don't deserve any criticism. After all, compromise is the end-game in any high stakes negotiation, but it usually only appears when the rubber hits the road and a deadline is reached. That's when the almighty dollar trumps all the ego, hubris, ideology and testosterone that fuels most successful people.

In this case, the players and owners often offer up lip-service about being partners. Had the players moved to a 50-50 split of basketball related income (BRI), something we all knew was a foregone conclusion months ago, they would have been able to highlight the duplicity of the owners, a group that seems intent on shutting down the game in order to garner a far more restrictive salary cap or a much tougher luxury tax on large market teams.

Now George Cohen, the director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, is getting involved, announcing Wednesday that he will oversee negotiations starting next Tuesday in New York.

"I have participated in separate, informal, off-the-record discussions with the principals representing the NBA and the NBPA concerning the status of their collective bargaining negotiations," Cohen said in a statement issued by the FMCS.

Getting Cohen involved, a guy who was also a mediator for the NFL lockout this year as well as a lawyer for the Major League Baseball players union during the 1994 strike, has excited some.

After all, it's never bad when both sides are talking and Cohen obviously has plenty of experience along with the ability to frame this dispute in a way that will hurt both sides on the public relations front -- something he has already begun to do.

"It is evident that the ongoing dispute will result in a serious impact," Cohen wrote, "not only upon the parties directly involved, but also, of major concern, on interstate commerce -- i.e., the employers and working men and women who provide services related to the basketball games, and, more generally, on the economy of every city in which those games are scheduled to be played."

That's the kind of real-world issue that could force each sides' hand in a bad economy, but anyone thinking this is the tonic that will cure all of the NBA ills is badly mistaken -- about the only thing that moves slower than these types of negotiations is the Federal Government.


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