Contract negotiations between the National Football League and the striking NFL Players Association are set to resume today at an undisclosed location as the nation's football fans face the first autumn Sunday without professional football in six decades.
But, on the eve of the talks, prospects for a quick settlement of the five-day-old dispute were slim.
A spokesman for the NFL Management Council said it had no new offers to present. Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, said, "We're not optimistic at all. We've told the player reps not to be too hopeful." Bargaining had originally been scheduled to begin last night but was put off until today at Garvey's request.
Garvey also announced that he has written to the chairmen of the boards of ABC, NBC and CBS television contending that the networks have violated federal antitrust laws by agreeing to pay the NFL $30 million to $32 million in television rights for the first two weekends of games not played because of a strike.
"We cannot imagine any legitimate business reason why the networks are bankrolling the clubs during a strike and illegal lockout; we must assume that the network payments result from a coercive contract demand by the NFL for financial assistance to help its clubs weather strikes and to coerce the players into accepting management's unlawful bargaining proposals," the letter said.
Garvey said he would bring the matter to the attention of the Justice Department's antitrust division and to the House and Senate judiciary committees, which are currently considering an NFL-supported bill that would give the league a limited antitrust exemption.
That legislation would exempt from antitrust liability the league's rules on franchise relocation and its current practice of sharing television and playoff and Super Bowl money equally. It would be retroactive and thus empower the league to force the Raiders to return to Oakland from Los Angeles.
Noting that in 1961 Congress gave the NFL an antitrust exemption to deal directly as a group with the networks for the sale of television rights to the games, Garvey said "we cannot believe that Congress thought that this exemption would lead to the . . . financing of management in an unfair labor practice strike in the National Football League."
He said that he and Gene Upshaw of the Raiders, NFLPA president, "will discuss the network involvement in this dispute" at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who has said passage of the antitrust exemption is vital to the stability of the NFL, said Garvey's opposition to the legislation is a matter of his "obviously being influenced by Gene Upshaw. Upshaw is, of course, paid by the Raiders and works for (Raiders managing partner) Al Davis in the offseason."
Rozelle also said the NFL's agreement with the networks provides that they be reimbursed in the spring for any money lost because of games not televised because of a strike. The NFL says it will lose $29 million each weekend of a player strike.
Garvey said the NFLPA opposes the antitrust exemption "not because of any relationship with Al Davis but because our attorneys and board of player representatives believe it is bad for the players."
Arthur A. Watson, the president of NBC Sports, said the issue of paying for games not played "is trying to make something out of nothing . . . nobody's getting anything free."
He said the network makes four payments to cover the 16-game regular season. The first payment has already been paid, he said, and the second will not be paid if the strike is still on.
A spokesman for CBS said the network would have no immediate comment on the NFLPA's charges. ABC officials were not available.
Garvey also said yesterday he has no interest in a contract settlement proposal attributed to Tex Schramm, Dallas Cowboys president, in yesterday's editions of the Dallas Times Herald. Under that plan, the league would guarantee its $1.6 billion contract offer over five years and pay players $10,000 a year for every year in the NFL within 15 days of signing of a bargaining agreement.
"That is totally unacceptable," Garvey said.
Mark Murphy, Washington Redskins player representative who is also a member of the union negotiating committee, said Jack Donlan, the NFL's chief labor negotiator, had said for six months a wage scale could be negotiated once the union dropped its demand that the league divert 55 percent of its gross income to a fund that would pay player salaries.
"Now he says first come off the wage scale, and bargaining can begin . . . he's trying to get us to bargain against ourselves," Murphy said