An NCAA official said yesterday he expects the enforcement department will hear from the University of Georgia Monday concerning a published report that Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker signed a contract with the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League Thursday.
According to the Boston Globe, Walker signed a three-year contract worth about $5 million, with the stipulation he could change his mind within 24 hours. The Globe reported that after leaving the meeting with Generals owner J. Walter Duncan in Athens, Ga., Walker walked around the campus and returned to tell Duncan he had decided to remain at Georgia for his senior season.
In Atlanta last night, Walker said "no" when asked if he had signed a contract and or jeopardized his eligibility. He declined further comment.
A Washington Federals source said Walker's attorney, Jack Manton, had met with a USFL representative two weeks before the Sugar Bowl, a meeting sought by Walker. The source said the league wanted Walker, a running back, to play either in Los Angeles or New Jersey, and all the league's franchises were considering contributing to his salary.
However, at a league meeting in Tampa, Fla., last month, arrangements for such a plan were tabled. The source said Duncan was acting on his own when he met with Walker and Manton Thursday night and that he would have paid the contract himself. Duncan, an oilman from Norman, Okla., is considered one of the league's wealthiest owners.
By signing a contract or even by negotiating one, Walker would lose his eligibility, according to Steve Morgan, an assistant director of enforcement and legislative services.
"For all the years Herschel has been at Georgia, because of his pro potential, we've had good lines of communication open with Georgia," Morgan said. "We expect that once the work week begins, they'll be in touch with us."Morgan said an investigation would be handled in the "normal procedure for an isolated eligibility case," that is, by correspondence with Georgia. He said since football season does not begin until September there is no urgency.
Asked to interpret the eligibility rule, Morgan said: "Negotiating or signing a contract--even if tentative--would negate any remaining eligibility. You can listen to an offer without professionalizing yourself if you don't begin to negotiate. It's permissible to find out your market value by asking that question straight up. Then if you begin to negotiate, you've crossed the line."
Neither Walker nor Duncan was available for comment yesterday. But Chuck Fairbanks, Generals coach, general manager and part owner, issued the following statement:
"Herschel's lawyer had been in touch with the USFL's league office and expressed Herschel's interest in playing in our league. He indicated that Herschel was very interested in playing in the New York metropolitan area, and that is how we got involved.
"Herschel met with Mr. Duncan Thursday night in Athens and after talking with him, Herschel expressed to Mr. Duncan that he had decided to remain at Georgia and finish his college career. Herschel made all of that public at his press conference and we leave it at that."
CBS-TV reported yesterday that Walker was meeting again with the Generals, which the team later denied. Claude Felton, a spokesman for Georgia, said, "I can't imagine that being remotely accurate."
Earlier yesterday Doug Kelly, USFL director of communication, said Walker, Duncan and Manton met "most of Thursday but I am not aware a contract was signed."
Late Friday, Mike Cavan, an assistant at Georgia, said Walker told him no contract had been signed. "He assured me he hadn't signed and wasn't going to," Cavan said.
Manton said he had no knowledge of Walker signing and Vince Dooley, Georgia's coach and athletic director, said, "Herschel's never lied to me, and he told me he never signed.