U.S. Football League owners met today in the first of a series of summer conferences to iron out problems in their proposed move to a fall schedule in 1986.
Discussions among the owners and Commissioner Harry Usher ranged from paring the 14-team league to 12 teams, to proposed franchise moves and mergers.
Most of the league's problems are financial or geographical. Birmingham is looking for a new owner to take over for financially troubled Marvin Warner, Los Angeles is ownerless, Orlando and Tampa Bay are conducting merger talks and San Antonio is four weeks behind in paying player salaries. Houston, one of the more competitive franchises, also is seeking a new location, possibly Chicago. Denver probably cannot survive direct competition with the NFL's Broncos and is considering a new site, possibly Hawaii.
Usher reaffirmed his goal to pare the league to 12 teams by the time the league opens play in 1986. "As commissioner of the league, I'm here to propose business plans," he said. "The business plan I have looks at 12 teams. In my opinion, 12 teams is the ideal number and that's what I will try to effect during the summer."
Another topic was the USFL Players Association's deadline of Aug. 1 for protecting rosters over the 15-month offseason. The USFLPA wants teams to protect 35 players by paying them 30 percent of their salaries to tide them over until next fall. Owners have agreed to the 30 percent figure but still are discussing how many players should be protected.