By Gene Cherry
SALVO, North Carolina (Reuters) - The NFL will allow players to use team facilities starting on Friday while it appeals a judge's ruling to lift the league's lockout.
The league said voluntary off-season workout programs may begin Friday at 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) and clubs can distribute playbooks, game film and other similar materials to players.
"Clubs are free to contact players immediately to advise them of the hours that the facility will be open for their use, to schedule medical and rehabilitation activity, and to arrange meetings with coaches or related activity, such as film study or classroom work," the league said on Thursday.
The use of facilities would not apply, however, if the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted the NFL's request for a stay. Then the lockout, imposed by the league on players in March, would be reinstated.
A three-member panel of the Eighth Circuit is studying the NFL request and has indicated a motion for a temporary stay was pending, Clerk of Court Michael Gans told Reuters.
There was no indication by the judges when a ruling would be made but Gans said it could come as early as Thursday.
Procedures for player transactions, including signings, trades of player contracts, terminations and tryouts, would be announced Friday, the NFL said.
The statement was issued just hours after lawyers representing the players warned the NFL could be in contempt of court if its 32 clubs did not open for business.
"The clubs must open their facilities to allow players to work out, meet with coaches and otherwise perform their jobs; and the NFL and the clubs cannot collectively continue to refuse to deal with players," attorneys James Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler wrote in a letter addressed to NFL players and agents.
"It is our view that the NFL and the clubs will be in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order unless and until they hear differently from the Eighth Circuit."
The NFL was seeking a stay of Judge Susan Richard Nelson's decision to lift the lockout. It also wants the Eighth Circuit to rule on the league's appeal of her rulings.
Nelson, a Minnesota-based U.S. district court judge, Wednesday denied the NFL's request for a stay of her Monday ruling that lifted the six-week lockout.
"The NFL has not met its burden for obtaining a stay pending appeal, expedited or otherwise. The league has not made a sufficient showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits," she wrote.
Before the NFL statement, confusion had continued over whether players could work out.
"The doors are still closed and as I understand it, they will remain closed until the appeals process is completed," Washington Redskins defensive end Vonnie Holliday told the Washington Post after he and others tried to enter the team's facilities.
Judge Nelson did not explicitly state what rules or conditions the NFL should resume work under but said it was "not overly complex."
"In short, the world of 'chaos' the NFL claims it has been thrust into -- essentially the 'free-market' system this nation otherwise willfully operates under -- is not compelled by this court's order," she wrote.
(Editing by Julian Linden and Frank Pingue; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)