The executive committee of the National Football League Players Association meets here Monday afternoon to set a strike deadline that in all probability will come Tuesday morning.
"We don't want to strike. We do want to play football. But we will not play under the current system," said Gene Upshaw of the Los Angeles Raiders, the president of the union.
But Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, said the team owners will not buy the players' basic demand that they be paid from a trust fund on a seniority-based scale with performance-incentive bonuses. "They want us to change the system, and we're not going to do that," Donlan said.
Meanwhile, Sheldon Saltman, the executive producer of an unofficial NFLPA-sponsored all-star season to be played in the event of a strike, said the first game will be Monday, Oct. 11 if a strike is called Tuesday.
Those games would be played by teams representing each of the three divisions in the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. They would be syndicated nationally by the Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System.
Robert Wussler, president of TBS, said yesterday he thinks "we can cover 90 to 95 percent of the country" by syndicating telecasts of the unofficial all-star games.
Saltman said he has arranged with promoters in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit and Canada to secure lease commitments at 18 stadiums, including RFK Stadium in Washington and four stadiums in Canada, for the sites of the unofficial games. Plans call for a season of up to nine weeks with two games each weekend, one Sunday afternoon and one Monday night, Saltman said.
But the Management Council has said that all player contracts prohibit NFL players from playing football for anyone but the NFL, and it has said it will go to court to enforce that provision.
In a related development, the Buffalo Courier-Express reported that the Buffalo Bills have been holding tryouts at Rich Stadium under the guidance of Bills Coach Chuck Knox.
Knox refused to comment on the tryouts. But he did say, "Some of the clubs have been holding mass tryouts to get them ready to play if there is a strike, but we're not going to do that. We've got a list of players we've had in camp and we will use them if necessary."
Donlan, on NBC television's pregame show today, repeated prior statements that the NFL's competition committee and the Management Council's executive committee will reevaluate the situation before deciding whether or not to play with nonstriking players and free agents if there is a strike.
Donlan also said the owners might be willing to guarantee what he has described as a $1.6 billion offer to the players over a five-year period, although in the past he has said the owners would need some form of protection in the event revenues decline.
Meanwhile, in Foxboro, Mass., New England Patriots owner Billy Sullivan said National Football League players are too intelligent to follow Ed Garvey, the executive director of their union, and go on strike.
"I don't think they (the players) will sit idly by and have no butter on their bread or have no bread," Sullivan said. "I think we have too many intelligent people in this (Patriots) dressing room and others all over the nation and too many intelligent wives to let Garvey lead them by the nose like they're puppy dogs."
Contract talks between the two sides fell apart here Friday night when Donlan rejected the players' proposal that their demand for 55 percent of the NFL's gross income be exchanged for a new proposal that would give them 50 percent of all television money plus substantial supplementary payments.
Donlan has contended the players' new proposal was, in effect, an escalation of their demands, and he says the owners have no interest in the players' proposals for a wage scale to be paid from a trust fund.
"We like the current system we have of players negotiating their contract individually," he said. Retorts the NLPA's Garvey, "What they are saying is that they want us (the union) to waive our right to negotiate our wages."
Under terms of the NFLPA's contract with Turner Broadcasting for the unofficial all-star games, proceeds are to be divided on a 50-50 basis between Turner Broadcasting and the union once costs have been covered. Saltman said there would be one game played at each of the 18 stadiums over the nine-week season with a championship game scheduled for Dec. 19 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu if a strike lasts that long.
He said such former NFL stars as Paul Hornung, Kermit Alexander, John Brockington and Alex Hawkins would do color commentary. Chick Hearn, who broadcasts Los Angeles Lakers basketball, is set to do the play-by-play for the Monday games, programmed to begin at 9 p.m. EDT. Sunday games would begin at 4 p.m. EDT.