"While some freedom of movement after playing out a contract is in order, complete freedom of movement would result in the best franchises acquiring most of the top players."
That's the official National Football League line, straight out of Pete Rozelle's office, right? Yes, but today's direct quote is from Chief Judge Floyd R. Gibson of the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, St. Louis - upholding the NFL's compensation clauses that the NFL Players Association challengde.
The Players Association, back when it settled its class action suit by accepting upward of $13 million in damages, got the old so-called Rozelle Rule thrown out as a violation of anti-trust law. But NFLPA was party to the present, more complicated compensation rule.
Judge Gibson now has upheld that settlement, ruled that the current collective bargaining agreement between players and owners should remain in force, and said that future disputes over the compensation rule should be settled within that framework - meantime, he declared, the rule is not only fair but necessary. And, look, he added, in 11 years under the Rozelle Rule, only 16 athletes a year played out options; in the two years under the new setup, 84 a year did so. Yes, but -
The NFL Management Council tallies 84 players who played out options this year and accepted "qualifying offers" from their old teams - only six received offers from other clubs, and the old clubs topped the bids in all six cases and kept the players.
The 84 averaged $16,000 pay raises for staying put, but the NFLPA looks to next collective bargaining contract time and vows. "We'll see drastic changes."
Next case. The NBA Players Association has filed an appeal protesting Commissioner Larry O'Brien's compensation ruling in the Marvin Webster case - a day after O'Brien, hearing it was coming, aired the opinion that Larry Fleisher, the association executive director, has a conflict of interest in the matter.
O'Brien noted that Fleisher, an agent for Webster in his negotiations with the New York Knicks, got him such a fat salary it had to up the value of the settlement the Knicks owed the Seattle SuperSonics, with whom Webster played out his option. And here's Fleisher and NFLPA going to a court-appointed "special master," Telford Taylor, under terms of the so-called league-association Oscar Robertson settlement, to overrule O'Brien's award of compensation to the Sonics as excessive. That was forward Lonnie Shelton, $450,000 and a No. 1 draft choice.
"The business of bringing up Marvin's contract is a great way of holding down player salaries," said Fleisher.
Next case. The $72 million invasion of privacy suit brought by three returning and three departed Maryland Terp basketballers against The Washington Star and the campus newspaper Diamondback is schedule for trial tomorrow in Prince George's County court. That's the one stemming from stories of last Nov. 1 about players on academic probation.