Three issues that could derail Indy’s 2012 Super Bowl

The 2010 National Football League season is ready to kick-off. But there are some Indianapolis leaders who should be more concerned about next season.

There’s no more denying the fight brewing between players and owners could eat into the 2011 regular season and jeopardize, or at the very least, postpone, the 2012 Super Bowl set to be played in Lucas Oil Stadium.

There’s a presumption that the looming labor dispute between NFL owners and the players’ union is all about money.

Well, sure it’s about money. But there are other big issues that could derail negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. And if we’re sitting here at this time next year with no deal, the owners have promised to lock players out and are threatening to cancel games.

There’s a misnomer that as long as the owners and players hammer out an agreement by the start of the regular season, all will be good. The truth is, if they don’t get a deal done by the beginning of training camp, the season will almost certainly be delayed. The union will insist on time for players to prepare, even if it’s some sort of abbreviated training camp and pre-season schedule. Sure, these guys are pros, but they still need time to train and coaches need time to evaluate their talent before a regular season can begin.

All this posturing between owners and players is bad news for Indianapolis. The worst case scenario; No season = no Super Bowl. And poof, there goes $450 million in economic impact and the opportunity to showcase Indy to a whole new audience. That's the worst case scenario, but there are a plethora of contentious, complicated issues players and owners must settle, so you can't completely rule it out.

Already local organizers are laying out contingency plans if the game needs to be moved back a week or two. That may be a best case scenario.

So if it’s not just money, what are the issues? Well, here are three that are sure to take center stage when this boxing match between owners and players commences in earnest in a couple months.

Personal conduct of players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell already has shown he’s ready to drop the hammer on players behaving badly. Now, owners want to have the right not to pay players who can’t play for a number reasons—especially those of their own doing—and even those that injure themselves in things like motorcycle crashes or during domestic disputes or have self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

Expect players and agents to put up a big fight against this. After all, you can’t expect a player to forgo pay if he cuts his finger sawing a steak.

The NFL players union wants health benefits for all retired NFL (and AFL) players and funds set up to help those in need, especially those dealing with debilitating football injuries. Owners won’t want to seem like the bad guys here, but neither do they want to open a Pandora’s box that will cost them tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars years into the future. The cost of healthcare isn’t going down.

The third issue that may get thrown onto the collective bargaining table is the expansion of the season from 16 to 18 games. Not even the players can agree on this one. Some don’t mind, and invite two more real games and two fewer pre-season games. Most players fear it will lead to more injuries and no more pay.

Owners want it because it allows them to negotiate higher national TV deals going forward as well as drive other incremental revenue streams skyward. The fans, especially season ticket holders forced to buy tickets for pre-season games as part of their package, are strongly in favor of it.

Expect the players’ union to argue for an expanded roster if the schedule grows by two games. The owners, however, won’t want to shell out the extra coin for additional players. The NFL salary cap in 2009 was at $128 million and small market teams like the Colts won’t be excited about adding to that—certainly not to add players to the roster. Although with Colts President Bill Polian’s ability to find diamonds in the rough, it could be to the team’s advantage competitively.

Of course there are other issues that are bound to surface. And all will be as complex, or more so, than the hurdles listed above.

You can see why the city of Dallas and the Cowboys’ pushy owner, Jerry Jones, barged in front of Indianapolis to get the 2011 Super Bowl. By all rights, that’s the Super Bowl Indy should have gotten. The game was quasi promised to the city if we built LOS, and our facility was done long before the Cowboys’ castle. At the time, the city shrugged it off, and happily accepted the 2012 game.

But what looked like a wispy cloud on a distant horizon when Indianapolis was awarded the 2012 Super Bowl in 2008, is fast turning into an ominous looking storm. And Jerry Jones is looking like quite the meteorologist.

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