In the next six months, sports fans are going to be treated to negotiations on new collective bargaining agreements for players from the National Football League and the National Basketball Assn. A year after that, it'll be time for baseball's talks.
Not to preempt all the fascinating developments you were looking forward to, but there are some things all owners and players can be expected to agree on:
--Times are tough.
--Someone is making out like a bandit.
--It's not them.
They can't all be doing badly, though. Someone's deal must be better, which means, of course, that someone's deal is worse.
Have any of the leagues yet happened onto a system that works? One that might serve as the model for all future contracts and spare us all this public wrangling?
On the surface, the NBA's seems to hold promise.
It offers a form of free agency that, on paper, guarantees players a free-market level of compensation, if not necessarily the last word on where they may play. It's called right of first refusal.
It also offers owners, on paper, a budget ceiling that allows them to bid against one another, but only up to a point. It's called the salary cap.
Under this plan, the NBA has gone from five to eight teams making money with four about to fold, to today's league in which 21 of the 23 teams are expected to show a profit. Those are the league's figures. The players' calculations are, of course, a little more optimistic.
"We think all 23 teams are doing fine," said Charles Grantham, NBA Players Assn. executive vice president, from New York.
Under this contract, the average NBA salary has risen to $450,000. That's the players' figure. The league calculations are, of course, a little more optimistic--$440,000 in salary plus $30,000 in benefits.
Everyone would seem to be prospering, but the players think the owners have been over-prospering. They're threatening to try to overturn the draft. The league, of course, flatly rejects that idea.
How does the NBA deal stack up against football's and baseball's? How do football and baseball stack up against each other?
NFL Average salary--$218,000 according to the league, $205,000 according to the players.
Percentage of gross revenue going to players--55%.
Ironically, though former union head Ed Garvey was derided for asking for a fixed wage scale, and was thought to have scrapped his request during the 1982 strike, the players came out with 55%, the highest percentage of the three leagues.
But since there are almost 70 players a team splitting that percentage--counting those on the active roster, those on injured reserve, those on and off the roster over a season--football's average salary pales in comparison to basketball's and baseball's.
Garvey may have wound up getting substantially what he asked, but the owners managed to save face while agreeing. And Garvey, increasingly embattled within his union, wound up leaving.
Said John Weistart, a Duke University law professor from Durham, N.C.: "While Garvey lost on his proposed wage scale, he did win a concession which seemed to be pretty good. It was in the form of a memorandum attached to the 1982 agreement, a letter from (Management Council head Jack) Donlan in which the owners guarantee to spend $1.28 billion a year on player salaries through 1986.
"The fascinating thing is that it's so crude. Management says, 'We aren't going for any crazy union scale. We just promise after all the dust settles that we will spend this much on players' costs. But we will control who it goes to and it won't be paid out through your formula.' "
Whether this was an owners' declaration of intentions, or legally binding, is still being debated. The owners did, in fact spend most of what they promised to.
"You could be just a little skeptical about the role of the union in that," Weistart said. "Salaries went way up, but I have an impression they went way up because of the USFL. In effect, that document was mooted."
If the average football salary rose dramatically during the USFL years, it is still far behind basketball's and baseball's and that isn't likely to change quickly. The USFL is gone.
The union announced that it will ask for unrestricted free agency in this contract and, in its pamphlet "Game Plan," called it "our primary goal." But when some of the members appeared to grow uneasy, NFLPA director Gene Upshaw began to emphasize that the list of demands was "horizontal" and not "vertical," a suggestion that none of the union's eight demands was more important than any other.
Both players and owners seem to be showing the effects of the '82 strike and an air of conciliation has been evident in preliminary talks. Yet Weistart, asked which of the three leagues has the greatest potential for labor unrest over the long haul, suggests it's the NFL.