Michael Lance Trope, Los Angeles player agent embroiled in a nation-wide controversy over signing college players prematurely, yesterday charged NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle with the same practice in the past.
Rozelle confirmed the accusation, but point out it happened 19 years ago and that the NFL subsequently enacted a rule after the NFL-AFL salary war barring the abuse and imposing stern penalties.
The latest controversy concerning Trope surfaced this week when a Miami newspaper story said U. of Miami running back Ottis Armstrong, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals signed a contract with Trope before his senior year.
Trope reportedly is suing Armstrong, who in December switched to another agent.
Trope admits he had flouted rules of the NCAA against such signings. He has sued Washington attorney Rick Bennett for allegedly taking away some of his player-clients, among them Maryland running back Steve Atkins, who also faces litigation by Trope.
"Just one time I'd like to find a reporter with enough guts to print the truth about Rozelle, to say what my motivating force is," Trope said on the telephone from Los Angeles.
"I read an article long ago-it is a matter of public record-about two men now in the NFL signing in 1959 the Heisman Trophy winner before the end of the college season (running back), Billy Cannon of Louisiana State.
"The general manager of the Los Angeles Rams signed him to a contract four weeks before LSU's last game of the season, and you know who that was (Rozelle). The founder of the American Football League, Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers, signed Cannon to an AFL contract two weeks before his last game.
"Al Davis, who became commissioner of the AFL (and now is managing general partner of the Oakland Raiders) was with the old Los Angeles (now San Diego) Chargers then and signed Charley Flowers of the University of Mississippi before the end of his season.
"My punishment may be that I'll be appointed commissioner of the NFL one day," Trope said.
"If these tactics were good enough for Rozelle and Adams, they are good enough for me."
Rozelle said, "That was 19 years ago last December. After that, some time in the 1960s, the NFL passed a rule against such signings and put teeth in it, permitting me to take away a draft choice from a violating team or all its draft choices.
"I signed Cannon (as general manager) for the Rams and Adams signed him for the AFL Oilers. The Oilers faked a signing under the goal posts at the end of the Sugar Bowl game between LSU and Mississippi.
"But Cannon and defensive back Johnny Robinson, also of LSU, and running back Flowers were signed before the bowl game.
"The AFL Oilers had reached an identical agreement with Cannon before the game. Three court cases resulted.
"The Giants of the NFL had signed Flowers and so had the then-Los Angeles Chargers beforehand. The NFL Detroit Lions had signed Robinson and so had the then-AFL Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs).
"Cannon was awarded to Houston, Flowers to the Chargers and Robinson to the Chiefs. So all three ended up playing for AFL teams."
The practice was common in the war bewteen the NFL and AFL before they merged. Trope says he signs to represent college players before their eligibility expires because other agents do.
"Financially, this will be my best year," he said. "I'll probably earn $700,000 to $800,000 at a commission rate basically from 1 to 7 percent of the contracts I get the players."