Sunday, March 13, 2011

IBCR EXCLUSIVE: AU players, Athletic Dept end collective bargaining talks, lockout imminent

image Sources close to the off-campus, closed negotiations between the Auburn University Football Players Association and the school’s Athletic Department tell IBCR that talks on a new collective bargaining agreement have broken off. The two sides are too far apart for a deal to be agreed upon by the scheduled start of Spring Practice, according to the sources, and neither side is willing to give up on or soften their demands. The sources demanded anonymity because they had not been given permission to speak publicly.

Spring drills were set to begin on March 23 and culminate with the annual A-Day scrimmage on April 16. That schedule is now in jeopardy. The sources also indicated that the soured negotiations were the primary reason why the ESPN network decided earlier this week not to televise the A-Day game. ESPN and ESPNU have decided instead to televise the A-Day game at the University of Alabama, also scheduled for April 16.

With the early departure of QB Cam Newton and DL Nick Fairley to the NFL Draft, the players had thought enough room had been made in the team’s salary cap for a broader, more equitable sharing of department revenues among the team. However, the athletic department has cited skyrocketing legal expenses, increased lobbying fees and an expanded street agent reimbursement fund as reasons for demanding an across-the-board decrease in player compensation, the sources said.

When contacted via cell phone by IBCR reporters, Coach Gene Chizik refused to comment directly on the status of the negotiations. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs, through a department spokesperson, said that the department was “still hopeful that a deal could be reached before players report for spring drills later this month.”

Sources said that the players and owners were too far apart on several key issues, including:

  • Player demands for higher bounty payments paid for chop blocks, facemasks, late hits and unsportsmanlike conduct calls.
  • Player demands for greater access to the univeristy’s crack legal team at Lightfoot Franklin & White.
  • The AD’s proposal to reduce the cap on incoming recruit compensation to no more than $150,000; down from last year’s top payment of $180,000.
  • Another AD proposal to limit the number of trips to casinos to six per semester, down from ten the previous year.
  • The compliance staff’s proposal to cap the player iPad, smart phone, lap top and car expenses to $1,000 per month. The players had demanded an increase to $1,750.

On Friday, reports emerged that four Auburn football players had been arrested, charged with felony counts of armed robbery and burglary and held on $500,000 bond. Coach Chizik swiftly dismissed them from the team, saying exasperatingly that “I didn’t have a hell of a lot of choices, here.” It is not known whether the players were acting out of frustration or attempted to hit a lick to make ends meet while negotiations continued.

“They just be chilln, balln n thugn,” said an unnamed former teammate of the four. “They be knowin that ain’t nuttin gon fall on deez champs.” Fridays arrests and dismissals bring to five the number of offseason attrition losses due to criminal charges.

No further talks are scheduled.

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