The Washington Diplomats, scheduled for execution at noon today, may be granted a one-week reprieve by league owners.
Diplomat President Steve Danzansky said yesterday that Phil Woosnam, North American Soccer League commissioner, has agreed to a league conference call this afternoon during which Danzansky will ask the league to give him until Dec. 1 to find a buyer for the club.
"We've at least reached the point where we can say to them that with an extension we might be able to put something together," Danzansky said. "There is at least one group that has expresssed interest that could pull this off."
Under league rules, Madison Square Garden Corp., the team's current owner, has until noon today to voluntarily terminate the franchise if it does not want to be a part of the league next season. Garden Chairman Sonny Werblin told Danzansky three weeks ago he would terminate the franchise if Danzansky could not find a buyer for the team.
As late as Friday the situation seemed hopeless. General Manager Andy Dolich, who had been working with Danzansky, resigned to become vice president in charge of business operations for the Oakland A's. Several potential buyers had backed out, scared off by the $6 million in losses suffered by the team the past two years.
But since Friday, after dozens of phone calls, Danzansky appears to have found at least one legitimate group. The people involved have asked for anonymity, at least for the moment.
"That in itself is encouraging to me," Danzansky said. "These guys aren't just looking for publicity. They're serious."
It will take a unanimous vote by the 24 league owners to keep the Diplomats alive beyond today. Danzansky is optimistic, however, and has the support of Woosnam, who earlier in the week had been skeptical about dragging the affair out because it appeared beyond redemption.
"I'm going to make a simple case," Danzansky said. "The league owes this to the city of Washington. I know they have schedules to get out and they want to get on with next year, but I think they need Washington and they'll give us at least another week. The fact that I can honestly tell them there's hope has to help a lot."
"We want Washington in the league," Woosnam said. "If the Dips can be saved, they should be saved."
Ironically, the Diplomats will return from their tour of the Far East at 1 p.m. today. Ninety minutes later, league owners will decide if the team will remain in existence beyond tonight.
During the conference call, the owners also will discuss the fate of the failing Rochester and Houston franchises. They already have approved the move of the New England Tea Men to Jacksonville after the city guaranteed the sale of 15,000 season tickets to entice the Tea Men to move.