Pete Rozelle, who is celebrating his 25th year as commissioner of the National Football League, conceded today, "We are in a confused state," and called on the Supreme Court or the Congress to "come up with guidelines to help us operate."
Rozelle, appearing at his annual state of the league press conference on the Friday before the Super Bowl, was specifically referring to problems concerning franchise relocations -- the moves of the Raiders and Colts, the near-move of the Philadelphia Eagles to Phoenix and the possible moves of the St. Louis Cardinals and/or the New Orleans Saints.
Though Rozelle set up a series of procedures on Dec. 21 that must be followed for a team to move to another city, he said today he knows that "just because we have the procedures, doesn't mean we've sprinkled holy water on them. You have to get something approved by the Supreme Court or the Congress . . . . We'd like to get some understanding of how we fit into the antitrust laws -- where we fit, where we wouldn't."
Rozelle also confirmed estimates made Thursday by the NFL Players Association that would indicate a number of NFL teams will lose money by the 1986 season if current salaries keep escalating at the same rates of the past two years.
"We have financial problems because of the 25 to 30 percent escalation of player salaries every year . . . if it continues, it will put all clubs in a loss position in 1986," he said. "The Raider case damages, if they are not cut down, that will hurt us, too. But I still feel the National Football League is still the most stable of the sports."
Rozelle indicated the NFL will go back to the Supreme Court once the damages are fixed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Raiders case. The court already has ruled in favor of the Raiders in the team's landmark antitrust suit against the league, and a lower court awarded the Los Angeles franchise $50 million damages. The NFL appealed that damage award, and will find out in the next six months what the final damage award will be.
Rozelle also indicated he believes the U.S. Football League's $1.32 billion antitrust suit "is baseless, and we intend to keep it that way.
"They billboarded it for about a year and a half, and we'd be damned fools if we established a war committee and gone out and done everything we could do to hurt them . . . . One of their owners (Myles Tannenbaum of the Baltimore Stars) was quoted a year ago last October saying, 'We're gonna get our income from tickets, television and treble damages.'
"We feel the suit is totally baseless and we'll defend it."
Rozelle also indicated the USFL is "misleading themselves" if it were to think there will be a merger down the line. "I haven't heard from one NFL owner who thinks it makes sense for us to merge . . . . They will make it or not make it on their own."
Rozelle was mostly noncommital on negotiations now going on with an owners committee and Eagles owner Leonard Tose to help Tose out of his financial difficulties. "Basically, you'll have to wait until the bottom line comes out before you draw any judgment," he said.
On other subjects, Rozelle said:
* Doug Flutie's representatives have been in touch with him and "we realize there is pressure for him to sign with Don Trump (owner of the New Jersey Generals in the USFL)." The Buffalo Bills have the first pick in the NFL's draft April 30, but have yet to decide if they are interested in the Boston College quarterback. "It's up to Buffalo right now, and that's where it stands," Rozelle said.
* Miami quarterback Bernie Kosar, who has two more years of college eligibility but could graduate this year, would be eligible for the regular phase of the draft if he announces his intentions before the draft. If a team selected Kosar and he elected to stay in college, Rozelle said, the team would lose the pick.
* The league once again will consider using instant replays to help game officials on controversial calls, but "the key problem, as always, is judgment out on the field . . . . Those things you have to learn on the field." He also indicated he did not believe full-time officials would solve any problems.
* Concerning the league's drug policy, Rozelle said, "We feel the biggest problem is after-care. Players come out of drug treatment programs after 30 days and are saying, 'I'm cured.' That's like an alcoholic coming out after 30 days and saying he's cured. We have to get the clubs more involved. We have to have an out-patient program, like Alcoholics Anonymous. This can only be treated with proper follow-up."
* The league's competition committee will be looking at ways over the next month to speed up games. Rozelle said the average NFL game lasted 3 hours 8 minutes this season. He also indicated the decline in the league's television ratings (from all-time highs in 1981, they fell 19 percent at CBS, 13 percent at NBC and 24 percent at ABC) are simply a direct result of the glut of football caused by the USFL in the spring and more college games in the fall.