The National Football League's draft of college players has been thrown in limbo by the recent court decision in the Jim (Yazoo) Smith case declaring the draft in violation of antitrust laws and illegal as presently conducted.
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle said during the Super Bowl he hoped the owners and NFL Player's Association could resolve the issue through collective bargaining on the players' contract.
Player's Association executive director Ed Garvey has been saying the union is, and always has been, willing to compromise on the issue.
But for the moment, the draft has been put off indefinitely while negotiations between the two sides continue.
Here are two views on the subject - from David Slattery, former executive assistant to Redskin president Edward Bennett Williams, and Redskins' defensive tackle Bill Brundige, an alternate player representative a year ago and a former No. 2 draft choice.
Unless the NFL Players Association and the league's management council reach an agreement soon, there will be no draft of college seniors this year.
Frankly, such a nonaction would be a disservice to the league and the fans who support it.
The draft was the brainchild of pro football's founders and pioneers - George Halas of the Chicago Bears, Curly Lambeau of the Green Bay Packers, J. V. Mira of the New York Giants, Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Redskins' George Preston Marshall.
It was an ingenious idea: the NFL would draft graduating college seniors in reverse order to the standings of the teams in the previous season. The weak would pick first, the strongest last, and competitive balance would develop for the league.
And, despite George Allen's mania for trading draft choices away for proven players, the draft has worked. Without exception, all teams that have earned the term "great" since 1936 have been built through the draft process.
However, the draft did have side effects.
First, through the draft, NFL teams were able to dictate to all players where they would play, negating bargaining power for the players. This was no problem in the '30s and '40s when the NFL was not all that popular and the pay was not all that great anyway.
Players went in and out of the league as though caught in a revolving door. No one, player or coach, thought of professional football as a career.
From the mid-50s on, however, all this changed as the NFL roared to a national popularity not even its most vocal founders believed possible. And the "restrictive" facet of the draft became an obvious owner asset. It kept players in line and costs down.
Certainly, the salaries of drafted players rose during this period - particularly when compared to non-drafted players - the so-called free agents. Of course, the draft consumed all the good players and the free agents were the wildest of wild-card shots. So, while salaries rose, they did not rise as they would have had the players been free to negotiate with all clubs or even several clubs for their services.
The draft confined an incoming rookie to one team and usually this meant that he was the property of that team for the remainder of his NFL career unless traded or sold. A team kept a player, traded a player or fired a player at its desire and the player himself had absolutely no voice in the matter.
But until 1961, there was no battlefield pitting owners against players. Player salaries were rising: but profits were still high enough to keep most club owners happy.
Then the NFL and the American Football League began bidding wildly against one another. They employed all kinds of ruses and ploys to corner the talent market. Out of fear, owners from both leagues paid huge bonuses to untested rookies. The draft rookie and not the proven veteran was rolling in the spoils of war. This was not only unfair, but irrational. I have never heard a believeable reason for paying a bonus to an untested rookie to sign a contract. It simply doesn't make sense. If clubs have bonus money hanging around it should go to their tested players, not to untested players, most of whom end up not making the teams.
This bonus war, and that is what it turned out to be, was one of the most costly battles ever waged in pro sports. More than any other factor, it laid the seeds for a merger between the leagues. It had to happen or the leagues would have committed financial suicide. The bonus war also laid the seeds for the successful development and growth of the players association, something all owners were against in the '50s and feared in the '60s.
Now the veteran players wanted their fair share. There has been no labor peace as the players and owners have slugged it out in the courtroom. The time has come to settle these problems.
A key issue in that settlement will be the draft agreement. For just as the old draft is gone forever; so too, do most football people realize that some form of draft is necessary to help maintain that elusive competitive balance, the ability of a small-town team like Green Bay to compete against New York; the ability of a small-stadium team like Minnesota to compete against a Los Angeles.
I would suggest the following plan:
A draft of four to six rounds.
All drafted players would be signed to one-year contracts - no cut. That is, the money would be guaranteed whether the rookie made the team or not.
No bonuses for rookie signings.
No option clause. After the first year the players could negotiate any type contract he wanted with his club; or if he couldn't reach an agreement by April, then he would become a free agent and have the right to negotiate with any NFL team.
No drafted player could be signed for less than $25,000.
If a player did not sign with the team that drafted him he would achieve free-agent status the following year.
Admittedly, this is not a perfect solution, but it does do the following: It limits the restrictions imposed by any draft. No player ever would become the property of an NFL team for life without his consent.
It also would reinforce the competitive balance theory and retain all the public relations assets of a college draft.
It would eliminate the foolish rookie bonuses and start the real money in the NFL flowing in the proper direction - toward proven, rather than unproven players.
Finally, it would mean that rookies would be well paid but would not be paid for fame or glory gained in college football. If they proved themselves worthy of the NFL, then from the second year on, there would be no limits on their income.