U.S. Football League Commissioner Harry Usher indicated yesterday that the prospect of the spring league's moving to the fall in 1986 is growing dimmer without hope of a network television contract.
For that reason, Usher said he might favor, albeit reluctantly, a spring season for 1986 but reaffirmed the league's goal of a fall season in the future.
"It may be that the economics dictate that," he said, "but not permanently. My goal is to get to the fall."
Usher met with nine members of the Senate Commerce and Judicial committees Wednesday and yesterday to discuss what he considers the failings of four bills that would give more antitrust exemptions to what he called "that club, the NFL," and thus exclude the USFL from a TV contract.
Usher's efforts against the bills, which concern National Football League franchise locations, were directed at creating an opening for the USFL with the networks for 1987. The NFL has contracts with all three major networks through 1986. The USFL has been unable to negotiate a package for its proposed inaugural fall season in 1986.
He said the USFL now is without an opening for a 1986 fall contract and has little hope of getting one.
"There aren't any windows for 1986," Usher said. "Regardless of what happens, it won't affect the existing network lineup for 1986."
Usher had said previously that the spring-fall debate was being studied by the league and a decision would be made sometime in the next 30 or 60 days. He did not predict the outcome of the decision, which would have to be approved by a vote of two-thirds of the league owners.
"I think under the right set of circumstances we could go either way," he said.
Usher also responded to Baltimore Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams' assertions that he would not allow the Baltimore Stars to play in Memorial Stadium next season if the USFL remained in a spring format. Williams told the Baltimore Sun that football and baseball played on the same field would be unfeasible.
The Stars are playing in the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium in College Park this season after moving from Philadelphia. Without Memorial Stadium for a spring season in 1986, they would be forced either to remain in College Park or go back to Philadelphia.
"That's not new," Usher said of Williams' objections. "I can understand his point. But I think he ought to let us play a couple of games there (if the USFL remained in the spring)."
Pat Bernstein, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, said the city would not take any action to resolve the problem until the league decides on a spring season one way or the other.
"Until that happens, I don't think we can comment on what-ifs," she said. "At present, they are planning to play in the fall and we are acting accordingly."
Usher was in town to persuade legislators that granting antitrust immunity to the NFL would only exacerbate the problem of franchise moves and antitrust suits. The USFL has a $1.32 billion antitrust suit pending against the NFL.