National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle said yesterday the NFL will seriously consider canceling the season if the NFL Players Association strike is not settled and the players back in training facilities by Oct. 25 or 26.
In a telephone conversation from his office in New York, Rozelle also said that some team owners say they would rather cancel the season than agree to the players' proposed wage scale, the central issue in the deadlocked negotiations. "They will not accept terms they can't live with, and they say they can't live with the wage scale," Rozelle said.
Ed Garvey, the NFLPA executive director who has charged the NFL negotiators with violating federal labor laws by refusing to bargain on the issue of a wage scale, said, "It's unbelievable that they continue to make our case for us before the National Labor Relations Board. I've never seen a more clear-cut case of violating the labor laws."
Garvey also vehemently denied a report that there had been behind-the-scenes maneuvering to settle the impasse, perhaps in time to resume play next weekend. "There's been no progress whatsoever," he said. There was also a report that President Ronald Reagan may soon become involved in the strike that has now lasted 18 days.
Meanwhile, Dave Sheridan, an NFLPA spokesman, said many player representatives have been warned by management that the season will be called off if the strike is prolonged. "We've heard that before and we don't believe it for one minute. That's a lot of money to be throwing down the drain."
But Rozelle said the timetable for a possible cancellation of the remainder of the NFL season is based on a consensus among members of the league's competition committee and the executive committee of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, that each team should play at least 13 games.
"They felt you'd need at least that to have a credible season," Rozelle said.
This is the third weekend of NFL games called off because of the strike. Two of the weekends could be made up, one by calling off the postseason wild card game and one during the extra weekend between the conference championships and the Super Bowl on Jan. 30. But continuation of the strike past Sunday, Oct. 24, would put the 13-game minimum in jeopardy because there are only 16 games in the regular season.
"You'd have to be settled in time to get back in condition," said Rozelle. "They should be in early in the week prior to the weekend when they would first play."
Rozelle also said the owners are united in their opposition to the union's proposed wage scale, which would be drawn from a trust fund and paid on the basis of seniority with performance incentive bonuses. He said he informed Garvey and NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of this during a private meeting in Washington Sept. 29.
There has been divison among the clubs about whether the league should attempt to play despite the strike, Rozelle said. "Some clubs have talked about opening the camps, hiring free agents," said Rozelle, adding that those teams were in the minority. "I was opposed to it and so was the management council."
There were no talks between the two sides yesterday, and none were scheduled, but management and union representatives exchanged messages blaming each other for the stalemate. The two sides last faced each other across the bargaining table Oct. 2.
Said Upshaw in his message to Jack Donlan, executive director of the management council, "You walked out of negotiations last Saturday and have refused to bargain since that time . . . You are violating the law and you know it. Your position unifies our troops . . . We demand negotiations now to make an effort to end this strike. We believe you must honor that demand unless union busting is your only goal."
Said Donlan in his reply, "You know and have known that the single largest impediment to resolution is your continued demand for your wage scale . . . You have heard us and now the owners tell you there will not be a wage scale. Our position does not change because of the strike. We believe that for negotiations to be successful, you must seriously rethink your position on the wage scale."
In another development, the NFLPA announced establishment of a loan program in connection with several regional lending institutions to enable striking players to borrow up to $20,000 each to meet household expenses and monthly payments during the strike.
"What we're trying to achieve is to put the players in a position financially where they can survive a long strike, because it looks like it's going to be a long strike," said Garvey. "We don't want to lose the strike over the fact that some of our people can't borrow money."