NFL goes to court; what teams will go to Canton?

Two links below help explain the significance and ramifications of today’s lockout injunction hearing in a federal court in Minneapolis. Also, thoughts on a possibly plum assignment for NFL teams, particularly those with first-year coaches: a date in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio …

• In this 10-question primer, NBC’s Mike Florio answers the question many fans (and beat writers) are asking. If U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson rules in favor of the players – that is, she grants an injunction to lift the lockout – will the league year (free agency, trades, minicamps) begin immediately? The answer: Don’t bet on it.

A ruling in favor of the players would be appealed by the NFL (and vice versa) and Florio writes that it’s expected that Nelson would “stay” the injunction – keep the lockout in place until the appeal ends.

By the way, Florio says a ruling is “unlikely” to come today, but should arrive within a week.

• So how long would it take for the Eighth Circuit Court to make a ruling on an appeal? As ESPN’s Lester Munson writes here, a ruling would come in the early summer.

Munson, a lawyer, expects Nelson to rule in favor of the players. He reasons that it would level the playing field between the two sides and lead to a new collective bargaining agreement.

• If the labor impasse wipes out offseason minicamps, it’s likely many teams – particularly those with first-year coaches such as the 49ers – would want to be playing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio (assuming the game isn’t wiped out by a lockout).

As National Football Post notes, the two teams in the annual game would get a fifth preseason game and would be able to begin training camp a week earlier than 30 other teams. NFL rules stipulate that teams can’t begin their training camp more than 15 days before their first preseason game. The league is expected to announce the preseason and regular-season schedules in mid-April.

The NFL selects which teams play in the Hall of Fame Game and the participants typically have a connection to that year’s HOF class. As the Chicago Tribune reported, there are rumors the Bears will play in this year’s game with former Chicago defensive end Richard Dent being enshrined.

If the Bears are invited, it would likely rule out the Niners, a fellow NFC team which last played in Canton in 2000. Since the AFL-NFL merger, the Hall of Fame Game has pitted an NFC team against an AFC team in every year but one. In 2009, two original AFL teams, the Bills and Titans, played in honor of the AFL’s 50th anniversary.

I asked NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, via e-mail, about a team lobbying the league to play in the Hall of Fame Game. Would that have any bearing on who the league selected?

“Not necessarily,” Aiello responded.

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