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A Question for Sports Lawyers: What Happens to a Standard Player Contract During a Lockout?

Labour law, contract law, commercial law, anti-trust law, even health and safety law all intersect in the legal treatment of pro sports.

On the last point, for example, I opined on Twitter last week that the NFL players should exercise their statutory right to refuse unsafe working conditions if they really believe, as they constantly state, that the scab refs are so incompetent that the game has become excessively dangerous.  A threat by players to refuse to report to work would certainly create an incentive for NFL to get a deal with the refs’ union.  Yesterday, a conservative (read: antiunion) website in the U.S. suggested that the players should do just that. Actually, I wasn’t being serious, because I doubt that the players could prove that the conditions of work are unacceptably dangerous due to the replacement refs, given the occupation they have chosen. Has there actually been more injuries than in the past?  I don’t know [It's also kinda funny that the players are complaining about their own behaviour--it's the players that are creating the greater risk of injury to the players]

My Question:  What is the Status of the Standard Player Agreement During a Lockout?

I have a question about sports collective bargaining that I haven’t figured out yet, though there must be an obvious answer.  Anyone help me with this?

As I understand it, there are three types of contracts that govern a unionized pro sports league:  (1) the standard player contract (SPA); (2) league by-laws or constitution; and (3) the collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  The CBA is a contract between the league and the player’s union.  The SPA, on the other hand, is a contract between a team and an individual player, that sets out certain terms, including salary.  So Sidney Crosby has a SPA with the Penguins, and that SPA must not be inconsistent with the CBA.  This makes sports collective bargaining very different than usual collective bargaining, where you would not expect to find individual employment contracts operating alongside a collective agreement.

By the time the NHL is in a lockout position, the CBA has expired.  There is no CBA governing the NHL and NHLPA right now.  But the SPA is a separate contract from the CBA, between different parties.  The SPA requires the team to pay the player, and imposes a bunch of duties on the employee (player).

My question is, what is the status of the SPA during a lockout, when the CBA has expired?

Why isn’t the SPA still an enforceable contract between employee (player) and team?

Why do the contractual obligations between the Penguins and Sidney Crosby, as set down in the SPA that governs Crosby’s employment relationship, continue to apply even if the CBA between the league and union has expired?

I assume there is a contract term somewhere that answers this question.  Can some expert in sports collective bargaining point me to it?  Much obliged.


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