Negotiators for the National Football League and the striking NFL Players Association broke off talks last night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., after the union turned down a management proposal to guarantee its offer of a $1.6 billion salary package over the next five years if the union would drop its demand for a wage scale.
A spokesman for the NFL Management Council, the NFL's labor negotiating arm, said the council will call the union today to arrange a meeting this week in Washington.
But the sides still appeared to be a long way from an early settlement of the strike, although there were some expressions of optimism from both camps.
"We made a move today which we are very hopeful and very optimistic is going to end the dispute," the Associated Press quoted Jack Donlan, the management council's executive director as saying.
At the end of five years, Donlan said, any of the $1.6 billion not spent would be put into a pool for player bonuses.
"That sounds more like what we were talking about," the AP quoted Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA president, as saying.
But Upshaw, a player for the Los Angeles Raiders, also said the negotiating session "ended just as it started" and there is no change in the players' basic demand that a trust fund be set up to pay player salaries on a seniority-based scale with performance incentive bonuses.
The walkout started last Tuesday and forced management to call off all 14 games scheduled for the third week of the 16-game regular season.
Negotiators for the management council have maintained their opposition to a wage scale for players and Upshaw said there would be no settlement without one.
Yesterday's meeting, the first between the two sides since Sept. 17, was intended to be held at an undisclosed location. But a caravan of newsmen followed Upshaw and Ed Garvey, the NFLPA executive director, from the CBS studios to Hofstra, on Long Island, where the New York Jets train. The meeting was held in the university's faculty board room.
In another development, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, appearing on CBS, said he didn't know how the season would be scheduled, once the strike has ended.
"We really don't have a plan because we don't know how long it will last," Rozelle said. "One week is easy. We can make it up in the week before the Super Bowl. Anything more than a week presents problems."
Rozelle said it would be impractical to delay the Super Bowl, now scheduled Jan. 30 in Pasadena, Calif., because it would necessitate January games in northern cities.
Rozelle said the strike would have to be settled by Thursday in order for this Sunday's games and the game next Monday night to be played.
But he will not attend the negotiations, Rozelle repeated, saying that management's negotiator was Donlan.
Both Upshaw, appearing earlier yesterday on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM) and Mark Murphy, the Washington Redskins player representative, appearing on "Sportsbeat" (ABC, WJLA), predicted management will attempt to divide the union by opening its practice facilities and urging players to defy the union and return to work.
Said Murphy: "On Tuesday, with a lot of media hype, they will come out and open the doors and say 'come on in or there will be no season.' "
But Murphy also predicted such a tactic would fail.
The players want $1.6 billion over four years, not five as management has proposed. That means the two sides are $80 million apart per year. But the more fundamental demand involves the wage scale and the trust fund.
Only in that way, the union says, can veteran players be protected against being cut because their salaries are too high.
"That's why we have such short careers, 4.2 years," Upshaw said. "The minute you start making money, they get rid of you. So we're not backing down on that concept."
But the NFL says a wage scale could put it at a competitive disadvantage with the United States Football League and the Canadian Football League in such matters as signing rookies. The NFL wants to continue individual bargaining.
Appearing with Murphy on "Sportsbeat," Tom Condon, the Kansas City Chiefs' player representative, assailed Donlan for his position.
"Donlan said as far back as February that he would favorably entertain a proposal for a wage scale. Now he's unalterably opposed," Condon said. "It's hard to bargain with a man who constantly changes his position."
Both Condon and Upshaw criticized an agreement worked out between the NFL and the television networks in which the networks will pay the league $30 million to $32 million for the first two weekends of games called off because of a strike.
"The networks have sided with management," Condon said.
"They are prolonging the strike. . . " Upshaw said. "The networks are actually funding the strike."
But Rozelle says that the money will be refunded if the games are not rescheduled.