Could athletes under contract declare free agency during a work stoppage?

I was looking at some of the old Sports Illustrated articles that they have in the “vault” section of their website, and I chanced across an article from 1987 about the NFL players’ strike that occurred that year. As some of you may remember, the NFL canceled one week of games, and then played the next three weeks with replacement players (or “scabs,” if you prefer.) This was also the loose inspiration for the Keanu Reeves movie The Replacements.

Anyways, reading through the article, there’s a quote from Tex Schramm that says thusly:

“Our attorneys have told us that we have a contractual relationship with our players, and we have to be ready to honor it,” he says. “If we don’t, then legally they might be able to apply to have their contracts voided. What this means is that if we don’t give them a team to play for, they might be able to become free agents.”

The original article from here.

Was Schramm right? If so, could the NHL players have tried to declare free agency during the last two lockouts? Or the baseball players during the strike?

NHL players were free to sign with European teams during the lockout. However, their contractual status after the lockout was determined by the new CBA.

MLB players definitely could not have declared free agency while they were striking, because they were not willing to honour their contracts.

But would things be different, legally, if the work stoppage were a lockout rather than a strike?

At the OP’s request, I’m moving this to General Questions to see if there are regulars there who want to take a crack at this.

So … From Game Room to General Questions we go!

Ellen Cherry
Game Room Moderator

In a move that will I’m sure bring the US sporting world to its knees :slight_smile: the MLS (who, you ask ? The American “soccer” league) are considering a strike this season…

The US national team captain has said he will return to the UK side Everton (with whom he was playing on a temporary loan over the closed season, in order to get some top-level experience before the world cup), if that happens.

I guess the question is, where would they go? The other teams in the same league won’t poach someone, I’m sure it’s in their league rules not to… and in every team owner’s self interest.

Some sports - hockey, soccer - have alternate leagues or overseas. Football, basketball, and baseball less so; especially if you want real money. Also - how long would you expect the strike/lockout to last, before you start making serious alternate arrangements to play baseball in Tokyo or whatever? That team isn’t going to go out of their way to get you set up just to have the rug pulledout a few days later. Farm teams probably have deals with the majors that preculde poaching too.

If there’s a question of free agency, I’m sure it was part of the negotiations. The last thing the owners would do is be surprised “what? Once we settle all contracts are off and it’s a free-for-all?” I’m sure the contract explicitly continued all prior arrangements.