Owens trade goes before arbiter today

Hearing in Philadelphia will decide validity of deal Ravens made for receiver

Pro Football

March 15, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The long-awaited hearing to decide whether Terrell Owens' trade to the Ravens is valid will take place today in Philadelphia.

The closed-door meeting will be presided over by Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor. Burbank's first decision as an NFL arbiter is expected to come tomorrow.

His judgment can be appealed to U.S. District Judge David Doty, who oversees the collective-bargaining agreement. It is unclear when Doty would be able to deal with an appeal.

Owens, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, is trying to become a free agent so he can play for the Philadelphia Eagles instead of the Ravens.

According to the NFL, Owens forfeited his free-agent rights when he failed to submit paperwork to void the final three years of his contract before a Feb. 21 deadline.

The NFL Players Association, which filed the grievance on Owens' behalf, claims the San Francisco 49ers "had the required notice of Owens' intent to void the final two years of his contract," so his trade to the Ravens for a second-round pick should be rescinded.

In NFL circles, most observers said they don't expect the trade to be overturned because the union will concede Owens' agent made a mistake by missing the deadline.

But, said Carl Francis, the director of communications for the NFL Players Association, "We have found some ways to support Terrell's argument."

When asked what would be the basis for the union's case, Francis said, "It's probably best to keep those theories to ourselves for our grievance. We have different ideas. We'll see whether they fail or not. We have a little faith that things can work out the best for Terrell. But we just have to wait to see what happens before the special master."

The Ravens will not have any representation at the hearing, but the team has relayed information concerning its involvement to league officials through in-coming team president Richard Cass.

Owens' case will be argued by Richard Berthelsen, the union's general counsel, and Jeffrey Kessler, its primary outside lawyer. Gregg Levy, the NFL's chief litigator, will present the league's case.

The case was originally scheduled for last Saturday, but Burbank wanted to hear from both sides in person rather than through a conference call. It was then re-scheduled for today.

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