The owners of the National Football League's 28 teams have unanimously ratified the collective bargaining agreement reached Tuesday with the NFL Players Association, it was announced today by Chuck Sullivan, chairman of the executive committee of the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm.
That action clears the way for resumption of games Sunday, provided the agreement is initialed Thursday in Washington by Ed Garvey, the NFLPA's executive director, and Gene Upshaw, president of the union, Sullivan said.
Ratification of the agreement by the owners was held up for several hours here this afternoon when it was learned that Garvey and Upshaw had left for Washington without initialing the settlement. But Sullivan said Garvey was reached later by telephone and had said he would initial the documents.
Garvey later told the Associated Press: "There are some esoteric questions to be ironed out, that's all . . . There's nothing to it. All the problems will be resolved very quickly. Everybody's going to be playing on Sunday."
Paul Martha, the Pittsburgh lawyer who served as go-between as a settlement was reached in the 57-day-old strike, said Garvey and Upshaw had hoped to win further concessions from the owners by not initialing the agreement. But a spokesman for the management council said the NFL had insisted on sticking to the terms reached Tuesday.
In other developments related to settlement of the strike, the longest professional sports walkout in U.S. history, the league announced the schedule of games for Jan. 2 and Jan. 3. Those will be the last regular season games in the NFL's shortest season.
The Washington Redskins will play the St. Louis Cardinals at 1 p.m. that Sunday, Jan. 2, at RFK Stadium. That will give the Redskins four home games this season.
The other games that week: Atlanta at New Orleans, New York Giants at Philadelphia, Green Bay at Detroit, Chicago at Tampa Bay, Buffalo at New England, New York Jets at Kansas City, Cincinnati at Houston, Cleveland at Pittsburgh, Miami at Baltimore, Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco, Los Angeles Raiders at San Diego, Denver at Seattle, Dallas at Minnesota.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said three things went into the scheduling of the make-up weekend: "Everyone had to have at least four home games, we also considered the competitive attraction, and the weather was also a factor."
Eight weekends of games were lost to the strike and two were played before it began. The addition of the games Jan. 2-3 gives each team a nine-game regular season instead of one of 16 games.
The NFL also announced the method for pairing teams for the playoffs that will begin Jan. 8 and Jan. 9. The top eight teams in each conference will participate, with the first-place team playing the eighth-placed, the seventh the second, the fifth the fourth and the sixth playing the third.
In the event of ties in the standings at the end of the season, the league will use an eight-tiered tie-breaker system starting with head-to-head records and finishing with a coin toss. The tie-breaker system generally follows the normal one, but eliminates references to division games.
Winners of first-round playoff games will advance to the conference semifinals the following weekend. Conference championship games will be played Jan. 22 and Jan. 23. The Super Bowl will be played, as scheduled, Jan. 30 in Pasadena.
Rozelle said the conference championship games may be played at neutral, warm-weather sites.
Rozelle said the playoff field was expanded to 16 teams from the usual 10 because "when we got down to nine games (for the regular season) we knew we couldn't establish the playoffs by divisions and we could because of conferences. We felt in fairness to all the teams, and to increase fan interest, it was the thing to do."
The league also announced that 49 players will be allowed to suit up for Sunday's games and that weeks during the strike will count toward completion of the four-game requirement for players placed on injured reserve.
The settlement, which still must be ratified by rank-and-file players in secret balloting Tuesday to become final, gives the players little more in terms of dollars than they would have gained had the union accepted management's last offer before the strike was called Sept. 20.
But they did gain some rights they hadn't had before. And the bonus money -- a total of $60 million with individual players getting up to $60,000 -- assures that many of them will not lose a dime in salary this year because of the strike.
For example, players with four years experience now average $102,011. The "average" player would have to forfeit $44,629 for the seven games struck, but the $60,000 bonus would put him $15,371 ahead.
But players with either few or many years in the league likely will lose some money; the formers' bonuses are small and the latters' salaries are large.
In a non economic area, the league won the right to move the college draft to Feb. 1 should it choose. The union had opposed this, contending that would hurt the United States Football League, which plans to start playing a spring schedule beginning next year. The NFLPA sees the USFL as a potential alternate source of employment for its members.
But the union won the right to become the exclusive bargaining representative for all players in the league. This proposal would allow players to be represented by agents only if the agents were approved by the union, but it does not apply to college seniors until after they have joined the NFL.