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SportsMonday: Lock Out The Owners

We take a break this week from the beloved Bears to quickly ask what on God's frozen fjords is going on with hockey? How can there be another lockout?

The National Hockey League owners canceled a whole stinking season the last time they "negotiated" a collective bargaining agreement (2004-05) with their players. The feeling was they had to sacrifice a year of hockey in order to force players to agree to a hard-cap system featuring huge salary givebacks that was so advantageous for owners, they would all make money for sure.

And they got the system they wanted. And some of them still haven't been able to keep themselves from overspending on free agents. And still-unaddressed income inequities mean that big-market teams are mostly making big money while poorly situated small market teams (whose idea was hockey in Arizona again?) are losing it.

So now they are destroying another season in pursuit of another ridiculously once-sided deal.

Let's remember that this is a lockout, not a strike. We've had enough of these management-generated work stoppages now in the sports world in the past decade that one would think fans would understand that it isn't the "overpaid players" who have caused this disruption. This is 100 percent on the owners . . . unless people think players should happily accept huge cutbacks in compensation in an industry that boasted a record $3.3 billion in gross revenues last season.

As has been the case in just about all of the labor-management disputes in sports of late, owners are insisting that players save the owners from themselves.

My favorite contract of an off-season filled with big free agent NHL contracts handed out despite the fact that owners were going to be crying poor during collective bargaining negotiations had to be the $21-million deal the Coyotes gave Shane Doan.

The league-controlled Coyotes have lost millions of dollars during the past several seasons. The team clearly couldn't afford to keep the player who has become one of the premier power forwards in the game. But Doan, who has played for the Coyotes' franchise for his entire career, was willing to play for less to stay put. And the Coyotes couldn't help themselves, signing Doan to the "bargain" four-year deal.

With "bargains" like these, who needs big expenditures? Better yet, who needs to pretend that owners have any credibility whatsoever in these talks?

It has been four weeks now since the owners locked out the players. The first two weeks of the season have been cancelled and, really, the first month is toast. Negotiations may resume Tuesday, if the owners and the players can agree on how those negotiations should proceed during a meeting today.

Will this be the time that fans say enough? Maybe we can lead the way in Chicago. Here's an idea: longtime Blackhawk season-ticket holders generally have a good idea of who occupies the seats nearest them (oftentimes that would be the person who owns the season tickets the next two seats over).

Perhaps those fans could make a concerted effort to get together and find ways to split one of their season-ticket packages in the future. That way they could still see plenty of hockey but they would be buying half as many tickets. I know that would involve one fan giving up his season-ticket rights. But maybe a completely unnecessary lockout based in large part on the owners' certainty that sheep-like fans will keep coming back with more money no matter how much they are neglected might be at least slightly inspirational in that regard.

Then fans could keep it going as the baseball offseason progresses. They could step up and say, hey, Ricketts family, this deal where you lose on purpose and still charge premium prices for tickets, that has to stop. To review quickly, the team traded away key players in the middle of this past season claiming to be stockpiling great prospects. The quality of the prospects is questionable but what the Cubs definitely did was slash payroll and jack up revenues. The majority of ticket prices remained astronomical and will almost certainly continue to be so in the coming season.

And then there is the fact that Cubs management is doing that and still proceeding with the assumption that they will receive some sort of public subsidy for a big renovation of Wrigley Field? Well, that is two steps too far. It is time for fans to rise up and not take it anymore. Start with boycotting of the Cubs convention. That would show 'em!

I suppose I'm just a dreamer here. But surely I'm not the only one. Hey Hawks fans, you can do it! You can show 'em they can't take you for granted forever. Lock the owners out - of your bank account.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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