The NFL players, like football fans everywhere, will be focused on the playoffs this month and the fierce competition for a spot in the Super Bowl. Their lawyers, however, will be keeping an eye on the Supreme Court.
On Jan. 13, the pro football owners will be asking the high court to rule for the first time that the NFL is shielded from antitrust laws because, while its teams compete on the playing field, they function in business as a "single entity."
If the justices were to agree, the ramifications could be significant, not just for football but all pro sports leagues, say experts in sports law. Freed from the antitrust laws, owners could get together to restrict salaries for players and coaches and raise prices for everything from tickets to stocking caps.
"For the NFL, this case is like buying a lottery ticket. If they win, it's a huge victory, with the potential to be incredibly significant," said Gabe Feldman, who teaches sports law at Tulane University. "If not, they don't lose much."
Sports leagues have long confounded antitrust law because they involve both competition and collaboration. The National Football League is made up of 32 independently owned teams that not only compete on the field, but also compete off the field for players, coaches and the loyalty of fans.