Judge orders NFL, players back into negotiations

The judge overseeing the court case between the NFL and its players ordered both sides back to the negotiating table Monday, with a Minneapolis magistrate judge to serve as referee.

Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered the two sides of the NFL labor battle back to Minnesota to begin talks Thursday at 9 a.m. The mediation will be held before magistrate judge Arthur J. Boylan, who has been in that position since 1996.

Holding the mediation talks in the Minnesota court is a modest win for the players, who preferred that venue. If the dispute it settled in court, the NFL could remain under judicial oversight, as it has been since the 1993 anti-trust case concluded. The league has badly wanted to get out from under the court's eyes, but players have had success bringing their challenges through the legal system. The league wanted talks to take place back in Washington with federal mediator George Cohen. Other sports leagues rely on arbitration to resolve labor disputes, not courts.

Boylan will first meet with the players' representatives Tuesday and league representatives Wednesday.

Nelson has urged the two sides to work out their dispute through negotiation, not litigation. She can force the players and owners to talk more, but there is no guarantee that another round of discussions will lead to a resolution. Each side could gain vast leverage with a court ruling that leaves the lockout in place (helping owners) or lifts it (helping players).

Even with the order for more talks, Nelson wrote that she is still considering the players' request for an injunction lifting the lockout and will make a ruling "in due course."