Running back Kelvin Bryant of the U.S. Football League will learn by June 30 whether he can escape the final two years of his contract with the Baltimore Stars and negotiate a deal to play for the Washington Redskins next season.
The attorneys for Bryant and for the Stars agreed yesterday to submit Bryant's current contract dispute to an arbitrator, to be selected under terms specified in the USFL collective bargaining agreement. A consent order signed yesterday in Greensboro, N.C., by U.S. District Judge Richard C. Erwin requires resolution by June 30.
Stephen Ross, a general partner of the Stars, said yesterday that the team would do everything possible to keep Bryant. Ross said of Bryant's suit: "He has got nothing. He's been paid. He's got a contract, and in America we honor contracts."
Bryant, the USFL's No. 2 career rushing leader behind Herschel Walker, filed suit on March 3 charging that the Stars and the USFL made "numerous breaches of contract" on his $2 million, five-year deal. The suit, which seeks more than $1 million in damages, alleges that the Stars and the USFL failed to maintain minimum standards required by a professional football league.
The Redskins own Bryant's rights in the National Football League by virtue of having selected him in the seventh round of the 1983 draft. Bryant's attorneys have filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction preventing the Stars and the USFL from interfering with contract negotiations between Bryant and the Redskins.
Redskins General Manager Bobby Beathard was traveling yesterday and was unavailable to comment. But Beathard has said that the Redskins will not negotiate with Bryant until the former University of North Carolina star becomes a free agent.
"I'm not meddling in the deal," Beathard said when Bryant's attorney's first filed the suit. "I'm trying to keep from being curious about it."
Neither Bryant nor his Durham, N.C., attorney, Charles Holton, returned calls yesterday.
Myles Tanenbaum, a general partner of the Stars, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that Bryant is being pressured into "walking away from his contract" and that this is "one of the most amateurish pieces of litigation I've ever seen."
The suit alleges that the USFL's move from a spring season to a fall schedule violated Bryant's contract and also maintains that the USFL did not uphold the minimum standards of a professional league. The suit alleges that the Stars were forced to move last season from Philadelphia to College Park, where the team operated on a "shoestring" without permanent facilities.
USFL attorney Bynum M. Hunter said he hoped the arbitration would resolve all these matters.
If Bryant wins the case, it could have wide implications for the USFL. It might give legal precedent for some of the USFL's marquee players to leave the league to enter the NFL, if they so desire. As one USFL official said yesterday, "that would cause havoc."
Meanwhile, the trial in the USFL's $1.3 billion antitrust lawsuit against the NFL, enjoining the NFL from appearing on all three networks, is expected to begin early next month. Many feel that the future of the USFL is dependent on a courtroom victory.