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Owners Decide to Play On : They'll Continue Season If Union Goes on Strike

September 11, 1987|MICHAEL WILBON | The Washington Post

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — National Football League owners voted Thursday to keep playing with anyone who will cross the picket line in case of an NFL Players Assn. strike later this month.

The owners also voted to accept a credit line in excess of $100 million to protect against potential losses in television revenue and ticket refunds.

The 28 owners and their chief negotiator, Jack Donlan of the NFL Management Council, acknowledged after meeting among themselves and with union chief Gene Upshaw that of all the issues in question when negotiations resume Saturday, only one is preventing management and the players from agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement: Free agency.

A strike deadline has been set for Sept. 22.

Hugh Culverhouse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers described the meeting with Upshaw as "worthwhile." And several of the owners said they believe Upshaw sincerely wants to avert a strike. But that didn't prevent the owners from voting to keep their doors open in case the players do strike, beginning just after the Sept. 21 Monday Night game.

Donlan said that 19 of the 28 clubs have given $1,000 guarantees to players who were cut during the exhibition season. And owners clearly expect that some of the union members will decide to break the ranks and play, as a handful already have indicated they might.

"We will play with whatever players we can get to play, any that are available," Donlan said. "This is the fifth negotiations we've had with this union (1968, 1970, 1974 and 1982), and there have been four strikes. There is a high level of frustration among the owners. We didn't think at all that we'd be in this position. . . . But we cannot afford a work stoppage.

"No one said this is a perfect solution. . . . No one's enthusiastic about this. . . . but it took us 3 1/2 years to get the fans back (after the 1982 strike, which lasted 57 days) and we can't afford to lose the fans again."

Asked if all 28 teams could find enough able players to field teams, General Manager Tex Schramm of the Dallas Cowboys said, "Certainly. I think there are many players out there who would consider it the highlight of their lives.

"We're not going to do what we have in the past, which is shut down," Schramm said. "We're going after football entertainment. We wouldn't have any difficulty at all getting a team ready to play."

Schramm added that one of his players in Dallas indicated "that we're not a strong union team anyway, and probably half of our team would come in and play."

The union, of course, figures it has a united front. "Our attitude is that this would be a dumb idea, that the fans wouldn't accept it, that the veteran players won't cross the picket line and that it would leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth," Doug Allen of the players' association said in Washington.

Of the possibility of players crossing picket lines, Redskin player representative Neal Olkewicz said: "Obviously, we'll do our best to stop that. . . . I can't see fans supporting a bunch of players who were cut and I can't see television paying for it."

Offensive tackle Darrick Brilz is one of the players who accepted a $1,000 guarantee when he was cut by the Redskins. Although he said he hopes there is no strike, he said, "If it comes around to it, I'd be ready to play."

Upshaw was not available for comment. Upshaw met with the management's council's executive committee Thursday morning and, according to Donlan, met with Commissioner Pete Rozelle Wednesday night.

Rozelle did not attend the owners' meeting.

Donlan and the owners said that no details have been worked out regarding the league having to refund network television money. "I think the networks will televise our games," Donlan said. " . . . It depends on what the sponsors tell the networks."

Rozelle said Tuesday he expected the networks to televise games during a strike and that rebates would be made later, depending on television ratings.

The owners indicated that there will be a ticket refund plan, although details have yet to be defined.

Despite all the contingency plans, both sides contend they still will try to reach an agreement before the strike deadline.

The NFLPA says there are seven bargaining priorities that remain; management says there are 304 issues.

But, in reality, there is only one. When asked if it is clear what the issues are, Culverhouse said, "I think so. Free agency."

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