Talks between the National Football League and the striking NFL Players Association collapsed in disarray tonight.
Mediator Sam Kagel recessed the discussions indefinitely and went home to the West Coast.
The possibility grew stronger that the season might not be resumed.
Until one or both sides in the dispute are prepared to change their positions on the economic issues of the strike, Kagel said, "it is appropriate for me to return to San Francisco."
Since the strike began Sept. 20, the sides have been deeply divided over the union's demand that the players receive the bulk of their salaries according to terms set forth in a negotiated wage scale and management's conviction that individual negotiations should account for most player salaries.
Jack Donlan, executive director of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, said the league's competition committee "will have a tough decision to make" in determining at what point the season is lost. Seven weekends of games of the NFL's regular 16-game season have already been called off because of the strike; two weekends were played before the strike began.
The union discounted suggestions that the season might be over. "It's a scare tactic," said Mark Murphy, the player representative of the Washington Redskins.
Donlan said he had no plans to reopen the talks until the union "has something meaningful to give us."
"Not only do they have to move towards us. They have to move almost all the way towards us, because we are there," he said. A management council official said later, however, that management would not insist on a concession in advance from the union as a precondition of resuming talks.
Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, said he planned to remain at the Summit Hotel in midtown Manhattan where the talks have been held and wanted to resume negotiations as soon as possible. Player representatives of the NFL's 28 teams will continue staying at the hotel, he said.
As he has in the past, Garvey charged that what he called the NFL's failure to bargain in good faith was responsible for collapse of the talks. He noted that the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint charging the league with bad-faith bargaining.
"Once they realize that this shot has misfired, then maybe they will be ready to bargain," Garvey said. "The NLRB has been unable to get them to bargain and now the mediator has been unable to get them to bargain."
Garvey said he planned to be in touch with the NFL Management Council to get the talks moving again. And he noted that the management council's offices are only a few blocks from the hotel.
Donlan discounted the importance of this. "We are not close philosophically, we are not close conceptually and we are not close economically. It does not matter that we are close geographically," he said.
Collapse of the talks tonight followed eight days of Kagel's unsuccessful attempts to mediate the dispute here after a one-week recess that followed 12 days of mediation attempts in Cockeysville, Md. The strike was in its 47th day today.
Tonight, management negotiators handed the union a 75-page comprehensive proposal that admittedly was a compilation of proposals already put on the bargaining table. Union negotiators angrily denounced the package, and shortly thereafter Kagel called a recess.
Donlan said tonight that four-page summaries of the management plan have been sent to all NFL member clubs and will be available for player inspection should any want to see one. He said that he hoped the players could vote on whether to accept the proposal, but that he had no power to compel such an election.
The union charged that making the proposal available directly to the players violates federal labor laws, and it said it would file an additional complaint against the NFL with the NLRB.
Donlan contended that the current round of mediation included major areas of movement on the part of management. The union angrily disputed this.
Among the major areas of movement on management's part, according to the NFL:
* Agreement to a player wage scale beginning with $30,000 a year for rookies and increasing at the rate of $10,000 a year of experience for 20 years. Management says that this would cost the NFL $106 million in base salaries a year and that the base salaries would be supplemented by individual negotiations. Management also is offering severance pay, tied to the wage scale, for players with four years experience or more.
* A "money now" offer to the players that would give those with four years of experience or more bonuses of $60,000 each upon signing of a collective bargaining agreement. Players with less experience would get bonuses of $30,000, $20,000 or $10,000. The league says this would cost $60 million.
* Doubling of postseason playoff money so that players on a winning Super Bowl team would get $64,000 each; $70,000 if they got to the Super Bowl by playing on a wild-card team.
* A bonus plan under which players would be eligible for up to an extra $15,000 a year on the basis of downs played and participation on teams that are statistical leaders in various categories.
The union contends the management offer falls short of the mark in most areas. It is asking $91 million in "money now" bonuses this year, packaged so that veteran players would receive larger bonuses than younger ones.
It says management's wage scale offer is inadequate because it leaves too much room for individual negotiations. Only 94 NFL players would actually have their salaries increased if the management plan is implemented, the union says.
The union also wants severance pay available to players after one year in the league. It says waiting until the fourth year would give NFL owners an incentive to cut players after their third year.
Management contends accepting the union's proposal would cause most of the NFL clubs to lose money.