"We don't want a permanent law," NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said yesterday after Sen. Robert P. Griffin (R-Mich.) introduced a bill in the Senate that would ban forever television blackouts of soldout football games.
A three-year ban, which required blackouts to be lifted if a game was sold out 72 hours before kickoff, expired after the 1975 season. The NFL continued the policy without new legislation and Rozelle said the league periodically reports to the Federal Communications Commission.
Griffin's measure would prohibit local blackouts if the NFL game was sold out 43 hours in advance, not 72. Baseball, basketball and hockey playoff games would be shown if sold out 24 hours ahead of game time.
"We have stayed close to the congressional committees. Rep. Paul Rogers (D-Fla.) recently introduced a bill in the House to have a permanent law," Rozelle said at a press conference yesterday following his "state of the league" address at the NFL owners meeting.
"We are concerned about the proposal by Sen. Griffin to shorten the deadline for selling out. We will discuss the subject here this week. We may proceed voluntarily with the blackouts again."
Griffin cited strong public support among fans and said it was urgent for Congress to act quickly since there is no assurance that the NFL will continue its voluntary compliance with the lapsed experimental law.
Griffin, ranking Republican on the Senate Communication Committee, observed that NFL club owners are meeting here and said, "I believe it may be important to let them know that there is strong public support for ending blackouts and that Congress has not lost interest in this subject.
"The best response our office has been able to get so far from the NFL is that the subject of TV blackouts 'may or may not' be taken up at the meeting."
Noting that the NFL's biggest threat now is "ourselves," Rozelle said. "Let's not bicker publicy." He said he wanted to impress on the owners that they should avoid "litigation betweens clubs like in other leagues."
In response to a question about whether the league feels it has to do something to avoid a reoccurence of last season's officiating controversies, Rozelle said. "Yes, I think it would help our public relations. Those two big plays (highly questionable decisions on dropped balls by Bert Jones of Baltimore and Bob Lytle of Denver) hurt us."
Rozelle said the competition committee, which makes recommendations on rules changes, would present its report to the owners yesterday and they will begin acting on them today.
The commissioner said a proposal to have three extra officials to watch for fumbles already has been rejected.
Eight game officials, of 90, will not be back next season, four because they were not offered new contracts. Rozelle said Fred Silva and Vince Jacob will be back.
Silva ruled Colt quarterback Jones did not fumble against the New England Patriots and the Colts scored from the three-yard line and won the playoff game. Jacob make a wrong call on whether a Houston player was out of bounds and it cost the Oilers a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Rozelle later apologized to the Oilers.
The commissioner said he did not want to draw a conclusion about the apparent lack of bidding for free agents until after the April 15 deadline.
He said the Colts bid seriously for Terry Metcalf of the St. Louis Cardinals before Metcalf signed with Toronoto of the Canadian Football Leagues.
Rozelle said money is the chief factor in such bidding, but asserted that most option playouts would prefer not to change teams once they are making top salaries.
He said it would be hard, under the terms of the labor contract, to prove collusion among owners not to sign such free agents. He doubted that there would be an exodus of free agents to Canada, contending that league usually takes only a few high salaried players.
Rozelle said he was distressed by the turnover of coaches - 11 let go, two by Kansas City - and 10 new ones hired. He said he was puzzled because in some cases there seemed to be no fan or media pressure for firings.
"Coaching is a tough job. I like stability," he said. "There are two internal pressures to fire a coach - by the woner and/or the players. There are two external pressures, by the fans and to a certain extent, by the media. There is a growing competitive push to get to the Super Bowl. My main concern is how a franchise does."