We find sports compelling for lots of reasons, and one of the most powerful is that games offer conclusions.

So much in life is murky, at best, but not on the court or the field. The ball either drops through the hoop or it doesn’t. The player either catches the pass or he misses it. The serve either lands within the lines or it’s out. One team wins, the other one loses.

In a world characterized by unfinished business, we like the definitive quality of our games.

But the business side of pro sports is as cloudy as any transaction involving a used car…any foray into the math and politics of social security.

The most recent demonstration of this sad fact came this week with the belated announcement that the National Hockey League will play no games this season. Up until last weekend, the dispute at the center of hockey’s lockout found the owners demanding a salary cap and the players declining to accept same. That seemed simple enough. The owners wanted a mechanism that would operate to curtail their own excesses; the players preferred to let the market – characterized by profligate owners – determine their salaries.

Then last weekend the owners offered to abandon a previous demand that linked player salaries to revenues, and the players said they would accept a salary cap of fifty two million dollars per team…12 million more per team than the owners said they needed to continue to do business. Suddenly, the long-standing, allegedly philosophical disagreement between the two sides had come down to dollars. According to the way sane participants in collective bargaining define the process, it was a breakthrough. And then the season died.

Maybe someday an insider will thoroughly investigate the circumstances behind this slapstick misadventure and write a book about how the National Hockey League became the first pro aggregation in which the players and the owners argued their way out of a season. Said book will reveal the bargaining strategies both sides developed and prove that either both sides miscalculated, or that the owners intended all along to kill the game so they could try to resurrect it under terms more favorable to themselves.

And once that book comes out, if both the players and the owners are lucky, somebody will care enough to read it.