Judge encourages owners, players to solve it themselves

ST. LOUIS—Football fans intent on seeing an on-time start to the 2011 season best be hopeful the owners and players were both listening intently when Kermit Bye, the presiding member of the three-judge panel at the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, spoke Friday morning.

Although Bye said very little during the 70-minute appeal of the Brady v. NFL case, he did talk at the end, and he offered some encouragement to the embattled parties.

“We won’t be all that hurt if you’re leaving us out and should go out and settle the case,” Bye said. “We will keep with our business and if that ends up with a decision it’s probably something both sides aren’t going to like but it will at least be a decision.”

There you have it. The two sides can work out an agreement on their own, or the court, in a matter of a few weeks, could issue a ruling neither side was really seeking. The players are trying to overturn the lockout. The owners argued it’s a necessary tool in the labor process.

Where does it go from here?

Well, the two sides held secret meetings earlier this week for two days in St. Charles, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. They were settlement talks, and scheduled mediation sessions for next week have been cancelled. That’s possibly a very good sign because it could signal more clandestine settlement meetings are on the way.

If they don’t go that route, then they’ll wait on this court, and it’s already ruled twice on the side of the owners to uphold the lockout. The 8th Circuit Court is pro-business and the owners have that going for them.

“The fastest way to get football back on the field is to get extraneous anti-trust law considerations out of this and get back to the bargaining table,” said Paul Clement, the counsel for the owners. “I think that’s the real takeaway here. Not only is that the common sense way to get football back on the field, but it’s also the answer that the law has provided.”

“The league desperately wants these players to continue to be in a union so they can continue to violate antitrust laws,” countered Theodeore Olson, representing the players.

There were 21 current or former players in attendance, including Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. They just want to get back to football. Some type of decision is likely needed by July 4 in order for training camps to start on time.

Maybe the sides will listen to Bye.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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