"We're on to Court" – ever since the NFL suspended Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games, court felt like the inevitable destination the long and winding road that is the DeflateGate scandal/farce was headed to. Today, the opposing parties have arrived there.
As ordered by Federal District Judge Richard M. Berman, Brady, his legal representatives and the NFL Players Association will meet Roger Goodell and the NFL's management counsel today for their first scheduled hearing conference regarding their ball-deflation dispute. The parties will first meet at 10:30 a.m. ET at the U.S. District Court for New York's Southern District.
Since being appointed, Berman has made it clear that he wants the two sides to settle. He reiterated his request yesterday, when he released the following order:
In anticipation of tomorrow's conference, counsel and the parties are requested to engage in further good faith settlement efforts today. I will meet briefly with counsel and the parties tomorrow morning at 10:30 (in the robing room) for an update on your discussions.
At 10:30 a.m. Berman will hear the two sides before the meeting officially starts approximately half an hour later. Will there have been any progress made by then? It is possible but given the parties' respective stances, unlikely:
1) Brady has stated – under oath – that he was not part of a football-deflation scheme the NFL accuses him of being "generally aware of". Therefore, and this has been made clear numerous times, he wants to be fully exonerated. If Brady's team believes it has a compelling case and gets the feeling Berman thinks the same it probably does not accept any settlement offer that does not meet Brady's and the NFLPA's terms and requirements.
2) The NFL led by Commissioner Goodell, on the other hand, has made it clear that it has no intentions of reducing Brady's four-game suspension. It wasn't reduced after Brady's initial appeal and it apparently won't be reduced now, given what Goodell has told the Canton Repository last weekend: "We issued the decision just last week. We’re in the midst of litigation to [...] ensure that that’s enforced the way we ruled on that [...]" If the league feels confident in its own case, it won't accept a reduced punishment let alone an exoneration.
We do not know what will happen today or if the two parties have been able to get closer to one another yet. What we do know is that Berman does not decide whether Brady is guilty or not: he decides if the process was fair and in accordance to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Still, he has the power to potentially lift Brady's suspension.
Will he do so? It looks more probable than not given the respective arguments and the legal framework built around them – but it won't happen today. Berman has made it clear that he wants the sides to settle and today he will tell them again to try to find an agreement.
What could this agreement be? Unless Berman hints at one side being favored to win a potential court battle, neither party seems willing to change its stance. One possible solution might therefore be that Brady's suspension will be temporarily lifted and the entire case given back into the hands of a neutral (!) arbitrator, who would then make a decision if Brady, based on the facts and evidence (or lack thereof), is guilty or not. This process would not be as easily challengeable in court and possibly end DeflateGate.
However, as has been shown time and again during this whole dilemma, the easiest and most plausible road has usually been avoided in favor of the long and winding one.