National Foot­ball League owners and players failed to reach a new labor deal ear­lier this month, with both sides at odds over divvying up the league’s $9 bil­lion in rev­enue. As a result, the NFL lockout is on, and now the matter is headed to court. Roger Abrams, the Richardson Pro­fessor of Law at Northeastern’s School of Law — who has taught sports law for 25 years — assesses the legal process ahead and weighs in on the prospects for saving the 2011 NFL season.

What’s the next step in the legal process?

The NFL players’ union has decer­ti­fied, and the players are seeking an injunc­tion in fed­eral court against the owners. (A hearing has been set for April 6.) They’re saying that, without a union, the owners can’t col­lec­tively decide to boy­cott a group of employees. That’s what a lockout is in anti-​​trust terms: a boy­cott. It could be weeks until the owners learn whether their lockout will stand. If it stands, they may wait to see how long their employees can with­stand the lockout. If it doesn’t stand and is enjoined as a vio­la­tion of anti-​​trust laws — which in my esti­ma­tion it is — I think the par­ties go back to table, and the players will be in much better shape. But there is a problem: How can the players go back to the table if they’re no longer a union?

The second thing going on, with less vis­i­bility, is that the NFL has filed an unfair labor prac­tice charge with the National Labor Rela­tions Board, claiming the players’ union is not bar­gaining in good faith. The labor board gen­er­ally takes its time dealing with those charges.

Is this an unprece­dented situation?

Both sides are swim­ming in uncharted waters. Ear­lier this month, man­age­ment moved sub­stan­tially off their prior posi­tions, but they had already poi­soned the atmos­phere by orig­i­nally demanding an extra $1 bil­lion off the top. It was going to be very tough to reach an agreement.

The last time the union decer­ti­fied, in 1989, it ulti­mately led to a new deal that included free agency, which was hard to achieve through bar­gaining. This time around they’ve iden­ti­fied the issues, which mainly revolve around money, and they are not mat­ters of principle.

What will be the lasting impact of this situation?

I expect the legal issues will work their way through the process, and ulti­mately there will be a deal. I don’t think we will miss any foot­ball this year. This set of nego­ti­a­tions will also deter­mine how the NFL and the players’ asso­ci­a­tion interact for the next 20 years.

I’m not wor­ried about the long-​​term impact on foot­ball because the sport is too good a product and too good for the viewer. This sit­u­a­tion may, how­ever, set the pat­tern for what could happen in the sport of bas­ket­ball, where the chances for a lockout this off-​​season are even greater.