NFL news roundup, Penn edition

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Last month we covered Penn Law professor Stephen Burbank, who currently plays a central role in adjudicating the NFL’s ongoing contract dispute between players and the league.  As the standoff goes on, it becomes more likely that a lockout that could shorten—or even cancel—next year’s NFL season, and carry a multi-billion dollar price tag.

A few days ago Burbank issued a ruling on a crucial question:  if the league locks out the players in 2011, would the NFL still be able to collect $4 billion in licensing fees from stations that paid to carry the games?  Though it seems counterintuitive, Burbank ruled that as the contracts are written the TV networks do in fact owe the NFL $4 billion in 2011 regardless of whether a single second of broadcast-able football is played.

Though anything could happen in the next couple months, Burbank’s ruling would appear to make a lockout more likely, now that the NFL and team owners know the money is coming in either way.  That $4 billion has been referred to more than once as “lockout insurance” i.e. the cash that would keep the NFL afloat in the event that no one’s playing any football.

In other news, researchers from Penn Med have introduced a new concussion test that could change the way football players are examined on the sidelines.  The test is timely, after a year that saw the league tightening rules to prevent players from reentering games after testing positive for a concussion, and sharply increased media attention to the long-term risks of the weekly brain injury many pros endure.

Called the King-Devick test, the new procedure allows training staff on the sidelines to quickly and more comprehensively test the spectrum of cognitive abilities that might indicate a concussion.  Essentially, the test works by timing how long it takes a player to read a series of numbers off flash cards, and comparing that time to a pre-recorded baseline for that player.

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