The NFL would like to determine the future of quarterback Art Schlichter of the Baltimore Colts in time for the annual college draft later this month, but might be unable to do so because of an ongoing federal investigation, Don Weiss, the league's executive director, said yesterday.
According to published accounts and law enforcement officials, Schlichter faces allegations that he gambled away $390,000, then turned to the FBI when he could not pay it all. According to court documents, four Baltimore-area men allegedly involved in the gambling operation threatened to tell the Colts Schlichter could not cover his losses. The four are charged with participating in a gambling conspiracy and are to be arraigned in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday.
Commenting on published reports that the NFL would try to decide before the April 26 draft of college players, Weiss said in a telephone interview from Clearwater Beach, Fla.:
"We have no timetable. Anything further we have to do or say would be pending the federal investigation. We naturally would like to reach a resolution as soon as possible. We're cooperating with the federal investigation."
Schlichter, a star quarterback at Ohio State University in Columbus, was the Colts' No. 1 draft choice last season, but was beaten out for the starting job by Mike Pagel, another rookie. The Colts have the No. 1 selection in the upcoming draft and published reports have said they would draft quarterback John Elway of Stanford and trade Schlichter, perhaps to the Cincinnati Bengals.
According to federal law enforcement officials, Schlichter remains under protective custody at an undisclosed location, believed to be in the Columbus area.
"We have a firm agreement with the FBI that we won't interfere with their investigation," said Warren Welsh, the NFL's director of security, who is conducting the league's investigation. "The commissioner has put no time limitations on me."
U.S. Football League Commissioner Chet Simmons told The Associated Press last night that his league would consider accepting Schlichter if he were freed of his NFL contract.
Simmons, here for the Federals-Wranglers game, said, "There is always a circumstance of having a compassionate look at a young man who might have become involved over his head and there may be a period of time that we would consider it (approving Schlichter's entry into the USFL) very favorably."
Simmons acknowledged it would be "a very, very hard situation for us to look at."