"Take the weekend and do some homework" is what an apparently frustrated U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan told NFL owners and players Friday, according to former Minnesota Vikings player Carl Eller.
The players and the owners who began mediation with the federal court judge in Minneapolis on Thursday, were expected to continue Friday and into the weekend, but Judge Boylan released them midway through the day Friday.
"There wasn't enough progress," said Eller, who's been part of the negotiations, representing retired players. Mediation will begin again Tuesday morning.
So far there's been a lot of talking, but no word yet on whether the NFL and locked-out players are any closer to a deal.
Their dispute is mostly about money. At stake is the $9 billion per year that the NFL makes. The two sides are hashing out who gets how much.
"Currently team owners take the first billion dollars off the top and then share all the revenue thereafter, giving players essentially 60 cents on every dollar earned," said Robert Boland, a professor of sports law at New York University's Tisch Center. "This is really a game of leverage."
Players want more revenue sharing. Owners want to share less, and to cap the amount guaranteed to rookies. Retired players are also fighting about keeping their cash and benefits.
The last time the two sides met under the guise of a mediator was in March. That meeting, which took place in Washington and lasted for over two weeks, ended when they reached a stalemate.
The reason they're again in mediation now is because players filed a lawsuit a week ago requesting an injunction to reopen the league and declare the lockout illegal, sending players back to work. This time its in federal court, and the judge wants mediation to take away the need for the injunction.
Last month players disbanded their union to make way for the court battle. Without a union, they're able to sue the NFL over the lockout, calling it an issue of anti-trust.
"The players had a collective bargaining agreement which offered them a certain degree of protection, but it made the anti-trust theory inaccessible to them. Once they dissolved the union there was no more collective bargaining agreement and now they want anti-trust laws applied," Boland said.
But Boland said the NFL owners are crying foul. "They're contesting the union decertification, saying since the players were originally under a union agreement, it should apply now."
"There's an awful lot of testosterone going around right now," said Stephen Ross, Penn State University professor and director of the school's Sports Law and Policy Institute.
"The parties have whipped themselves up into a situation where this is like a sophisticated bar room brawl. It's like a duel among gentlemen. They've offended each other's manliness."
The last time the players dissolved their union was in 1989, in an effort to get more access to free agency. They were de-certified for three years, but eventually settled with owners and reformed the union.
Prior to that, in 1987, players actually went on strike in the middle of the season, also hoping for a better free-agency deal. But they didn't win much change in status, after the league continued for a short time with replacement players until the stars came back.
As weary-looking attorneys and player representatives strolled back into the courtroom for another round of negotiations, they carried large cups of coffee and tried to appear positive as they admitted not knowing how much longer it will all take.
"It's hard to say how it's going. There have been no decisions made yet, but at least we're discussing the issues and there are some important issues on the table," Eller said. As for the continually long days of mediating, "I think it shows a determination to get it done," he said.
The determination may be due to finances, because a lot of money will be lost by both sides if there is no 2011 football season.
"I think both sides expect the other to cave" Ross said. "It may take three or four lost games and lost revenue before they feel they've landed a few blows, bloodied each others noses a bit and then consider it acceptable to shake hands and go home."