We've all been hearing about how the NFL and Players Union were gearing up for war this off season, and so far they're not disappointing.
The two sides cancelled negotiations recently, largely because they know they're not anywhere close to each other and won't get closer at the moment. Then today, word got out about a complaint the NFL filed with the National Labor Relations Board that accuses the union of not negotiating in good faith. Why does the NFL believe that? It thinks the union is biding its time until the current contract expires at the beginning of March so that it can decertify and sue the league on antitrust concerns.
In short, it's really getting ugly between the two sides.
In the college world, we kept hearing about how draft eligible players would be scared by the upcoming labor battles and probably not go into the draft in large numbers. Instead, we saw a record number of early entrants. That's actually not surprising given three things: 1) no one really believes the NFL and players will be stupid enough to cancel a season, especially since most players can't afford to miss that many paychecks, 2) players can get financial support as soon as they sign with an agent, and 3) the high profile guys will get endorsements to get some income.
The NFL, for its part, is telling its advertising partners that they shouldn't expect to see a preseason or perhaps the first week of the regular season either. That's one way you know the league is serious about a lockout, because advertisers provide a nontrivial portion of the NFL's annual revenue.
If the NFL really is going to cancel some weeks of the season, college football reaps the rewards. There are some NFL snobs out there who won't watch college ball, but for most football fans, they'll take whatever they can get. If college is all they can get, then ratings on Saturdays will skyrocket. I wouldn't even be surprised to see ESPN prod a few opportunistic schools to move early season games to Sundays should an NFL work stoppage become confirmed.
By extension, the SEC reaps the lion's share of those rewards. No conference has a better reputation right now, and no conference has a better national television package. The conference is home to the last five national champions and three of the last five Heisman winners, so it clearly has the most momentum in the game.
Given that we haven't even had the Combine yet, we're a long way off from the NFL regular season being disrupted just yet. Still, it's something to keep an eye on as this ugly fight drags on through the year.