As the National Football League called off its seventh weekend of games because of the players strike, negotiators met with mediator Sam Kagel today in what appeared to be a difficult search for a common ground on economic issues of the dispute.
Although both sides feel they have modified their positions, they remain far apart on a player salary scale, both conceptually and in dollar figures. There were several meetings today, but no settlement in sight. Talks ended at 11:25 p.m. and are to resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
In a related development, Ted Turner, head of the Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System, met with a delegation of striking players this morning to discuss the possibility of televising players' league games on his cable network should the regular NFL season collapse.
"I told the players we would be pleased and delighted to televise their games if they are able to play them," said Turner, whose network televised player all-star games last month in Washington and Los Angeles.
Another player delegation met this afternoon with Chet Simmons, commissioner of the new United States Football League, to discuss playing in that league, which plans to begin playing next March.
"If the NFL continues to refuse to bargain, as they are doing, the players have to look at alternatives," said NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey.
Don Hasselbeck, the player representative for the New England Patriots, said the meeting with Simmons was "just an idea of how we can go to work and make some money. We've been out of work a long time."
The meeting with Simmons followed a morning meeting between a delegation of player representatives and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the third consecutive day delegations of players have met with Rozelle in his Park Avenue office, just a few blocks from the Summit Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where the talks are going on.
Rozelle later called the talks useful and said he will pass along the player concerns to negotiators for the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm.
But he was not sanguine about prospects for a settlement of the 44-day-old strike. "They are so far apart on money. That's the big problem," Rozelle said. It was also learned that Rozelle, for the second straight day, was working closely with the management council on the money issue, the first time that has happened since the strike began.
The major stumbling block in the dispute continues to be minimum salaries. The union wants a wage scale that would set the salaries of 60 percent of NFL players; management says it prefers individual negotiations and has proposed a scale that would affect only 6 percent.
The management offer sets a $30,000 minimum for rookies that increases $10,000 a year for every year in the NFL. The union has proposed a $60,000 minimum for rookies that goes to $123,000 in the third year, $156,000 in the fifth year and $238,000 in the 10th year.
Calling off of this weekend's games, according to NFL spokesmen, means the teams will play no more than an 11-game schedule, provided a settlement is reached in time for the games scheduled for Nov. 14.
There are 16 games in the regular NFL schedule, and the league says no more than two can be made up. According to Rozelle, if the schedule is resumed, the traditional divisional format for selecting teams for postseason competition will probably have to be altered since some teams will be scheduled with more divisional opponents than others. He said details are still being worked on.
"Whatever we do, we're going to get some flack," Rozelle said.
As talks continued through the day, management sources said the NFL negotiators were pessimistic and that there remained little change in the last management offer. On Tuesday, it was learned that the players had dropped their demand for a trust fund to pay salaries and also a guarantee of a share in future television revisions.
In addition to the minimum wage scale, the management offer on the table doubles bonuses to $64,000 for divisional champion Super Bowl winners. Players on a wild-card team that won the Super Bowl would get $70,000.
Bonuses for Pro Bowl winners would go from $5,000 to $10,000 and bonuses of up to $7,500 per player would be available on the basis of downs played. Another $7,500 in bonuses would be available for teams whose offenses or defenses were in the top five in the league.
The management offer also included increases in pension contributions and medical insurance.
Today, the union presented a counterproposal to management's severance pay offer of $10,000 a year for every year in the NFL, beginning with the fourth. But management was reported to have told the union it was opposed to severance pay for players who play only one year in the league.