|The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers faced off at Super Bowl XLV but XLVI may have to wait [GALLO/GETTY]
The fate of the next American football season was back in limbo after an appeals court reinstated the league's lockout of players, leaving the long-running dispute no closer to a resolution.
The players had claimed an early points victory last month when a federal court ordered the NFL to lift the lockout, saying the league's actions were hurting not only the players but fans alike.
But the NFL immediately launched an appeal, saying the federal judge had no jurisdiction in the case because it was a matter for the National Labor Relations Board, and succeeded in winning the majority support of three appeals judges.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 in support of the league, agreeing that the appeal should be heard next month and the lockout should be reimposed until the case is settled.
"In sum, we have serious doubts that the district court had jurisdiction to enjoin the League's lockout, and accordingly conclude that the League has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits," the court said.
One of the three judges dissented, saying he supported the players, but agreed that nothing would change until the full appeal was heard on June 3.
"The NFL has not persuaded me it will suffer irreparable harm during the pendency of this expedited appeal," judge Kermit Bye wrote.
"In any event, there will not be any shift in the 'balance of power' until the appeal is resolved."
A decision on the league's appeal was not expected quickly, raising doubts that the 2011 NFL season will begin as scheduled in early September.
"The NFL's request for a stay of the lockout that was granted today means no football," the NFL Players Association said in a statement.
"The players are in mediation and are working to try to save the 2011 season. The court will hear the full appeal on June 3."
The decision drew a sharp response from players on their social networking sites while frustrated football fans appeared near the breaking point venting their anger at both sides with posts on the NFL's official websites.
"Owners get what they want. No FOOTBALL," said one fan.
The ruling came on the same day that the feuding sides reconvened in Minneapolis for mediation talks that were ordered by the federal judge, who urged both sides to sort of their differences away from the courts.
But after two years of failed negotiations and the likelihood of more complex court negotiations, America's most popular sport remains in a stalemate.
The sides remain divided over a range of issues centered around how they should divide more than $9 billion in annual revenues.
When talks collapsed in March, the players union decertified, allowing the players to take individual action against the NFL and triggering tit-for-tat legal wrangling.