Striking players stayed away from practice at all 28 National Football League clubs today, but its chief labor negotiator said the NFL had not ruled out playing games with free agents and rookies if enough veteran players decide to return.
"The league is looking into that," said Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, when asked if games would be played despite the strike. "Obviously, we're going to have to take a hard look at the people who will be available.
"The league has said right from the beginning that it does not want to impair the integrity of the game. So what we would do is we would examine on a daily basis the number of athletes who are prepared to play. And if the league feels it can put on NFL-caliber football, then . . . we'll play football."
The management council instructed team officials to permit players onto club property today only to clean out lockers or to receive medical treatment. No players were to be allowed to practice or to use any of a team's equipment. Beginning Wednesday, players receiving medical treatment will have to find it elsewhere, the council's directive said.
Teams also were ordered to refund tickets for games not played.
On the first day of the first regular season strike by NFL players, Donlan confirmed the strike's effectiveness, acknowledging that all NFL teams had been shut down. There were no negotiations today between management and the NFL Players Association and none were scheduled.
The players are asking for 50 percent of the clubs' $2.1 billion television contract, plus other monies that would bring the total to $1.6 billion, and a minimum wage scale based on length of service. The owners are opposed to guaranteed percentages and wage scales and have offered a package they say totals $1.6 billion. The players want a four-year contract, the owners a five-year pact.
Ed Garvey, the union's executive director, when asked how far apart the sides are, said, "A couple of million a year per club."
The strike, he said, "couldn't be going better. We have 1,500 members and it becomes a story if one of the guys doesn't stay out. John Hannah stayed out, Craig Morton, some of the guys who were outspoken against a strike. You can't expect 100 percent, but we're very, very pleased."
Garvey was not pleased about the decision to bar players from practice facilities and to refuse treatment or rehabilitation at club facilities.
"That's crazy," he said. "It's to the team's advantage for their players to come back in excellent condition and ready to play. This just exposes the attitude of management. Frankly, it's outrageous . . . It just shows total disregard for the welfare of the players."
A few players showed up at Redskin Park to collect equipment, but quickly left. Tuesday is normally a day off for the Washington players, who plan to hold their own unsupervised workouts starting today in suburban Virginia.
Garvey again called for NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to enter the negotiations because "he could lend some credibility . . . They need someone new on the committee." Rozelle's office said the commissioner would have no comment.
Donlan said that if Thursday's game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs is not played, "we will be hard pressed to play any games this weekend" because of the schedule imbalance that would be created. The Redskins, 2-0, were to play St. Louis Sunday.
Stressing that he was using ballpark figures, Donlan said the NFL would lose between $26 million and $31 million each weekend games are not played.
He said there will be no attempt to play this weekend. According to wire service reports, the only players reporting for practice today were Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Donnie Shell of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jim Zorn and Steve Largent of Seattle, according to some reports, and Ray Guy of the Los Angeles Raiders said they did not plan to honor the strike.
"That's just an idle threat," Garvey said. "All the good players who were cut have either signed with the U.S. Football League or the Canadian league. Really, can you imagine Tom Landry, Don Shula or Chuck Noll coaching a bunch of free agents. They don't have any patience with veterans."
Donlan said he met here Monday night with the six members of the management council's executive committee and that the directive to bar players from practice facilities was a result of that meeting.
Noting that NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Los Angeles Raiders had said Monday that all practice sites would be struck, Donlan said, "We thought the most orderly thing we could do was to accept him at his word as president . . ."
The management council also forbade club personnel to arrange for or participate in practices for players. It directed the clubs not to pay players for the third week of the season, but it did say teams should continue to pay for medical treatment.
Violators will be subject to loss of draft choices and fines and suspension of club officials involved, the directive said.
Donlan said the league will take legal action if the union attempts to play a series of all-star games to be televised by the Turner Broadcasting System. "We will seek an injunction," he said.
Said Garvey, "In our judgment, the players are eligible to play. That is based on our contention of an unfair labor practice against the management council."
The strike was voted unanimously by the NFLPA's executive committee Monday afternoon. Contract negotiations collapsed here Friday night.
"It comes down to the issue of a wage scale versus individual negotiations," Donlan said. "We are concerned about competition from other leagues. If you have a wage scale can you attract the high draft choices? Can you keep your veterans? You will not have a wage scale, you will have a minimum scale."