The National Football League Players Association announced yesterday its members will strike on Tuesday, Sept. 22, if the union and the NFL Management Council have not come to terms on a collective bargaining agreement by then.

"This is something I was hoping I would not have to announce," NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw said at a news conference in Washington following a meeting of the league's player representatives and a vote on the strike date. "But the players have spoken. Management left us no position but to set a strike date. Maybe we can get something solved between now and that time."

Upshaw said the player representatives were unanimous in their vote to strike, and 24 of the 28 voted in favor of striking immediately after the conclusion of the New England Patriots-New York Jets game Monday, Sept. 21. Since most Monday night games extend past midnight, the strike date is virtually certain to fall on Sept. 22. "Obviously, management believes the union doesn't have the support of the players," NFLPA President Marvin Powell said. "They are wrong, as the vote showed today."

Jack Donlan, executive director of the Management Council, said the strike date "is not unexpected . . . It conforms to their history . . . to put negotiations in crisis. They've never had a negotiation without a strike."

Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said he has "guarded optimism" about the 1987 season, set to begin Sunday. But Rozelle apparently will not become involved with these negotiations the way Peter Ueberroth was with major league baseball talks in 1985.

The union would like to see Rozelle enter the talks as a representative of management, but will not treat him as a third-party neutral and Rozelle said he does not have the authority to negotiate for the league owners.

"I can't make a deal," Rozelle said in a one-hour conference call with media representatives from around the country. "That's up to Jack and Gene. Perhaps by talking to both sides I can see if there are any areas of compromise.

"I don't think anyone could come in with a magic wand, wave it and this would be over. I don't say {a strike} is inevitable. But when you reach this point . . . it's certainly possible . . . But I plan to stay close and see if any compromises could be affected . . . I'm not stepping in now. I'm just escalating my involvement with monitoring it. I don't expect to be the knight on the white horse."

Rozelle reiterated that it will be difficult to avoid a strike unless the two sides are willing to compromise, particularly on the issues of free agency and on a wage scale for first- and second-year players.

When he was told of Rozelle's comments, Upshaw said, "That depends on what he means by 'compromise.' There's no way we're going to completely withdraw our position."

The union and management council again accused each other of having no desire to seriously negotiate.

Doug Cosbie, player representative for the Dallas Cowboys, said the strike deadline may help get the two sides back to negotiating. Since April, labor and management have negotiated only 17 times. Upshaw and Donlan have talked once in the last week.

"This may be a lot like negotiating your own personal contract with the club," Cosbie said. "Management often waits until the last possible moment to do that, too, and the only leverage a player has is the possibility of a holdout. Sometimes, you have to put a time frame on it before things get done. They've been willing to do everything except negotiate."

Upshaw added, "Jack says I'm not available to talk, but he's had my phone number at home for the last five years. Why hasn't he called me? At some point and time they will want to bargain with us. I hope it's soon."

Donlan said from New York, "Now that we know what their strike agenda is, what is their bargaining agenda? The union says it wants to negotiate, but the union doesn't want to go to the bargaining table. They were unavailable the two weeks before the contract expired . . . "

Donlan is scheduled to meet Thursday morning with the owners' executive committee in Chicago, then with the general ownership later that afternoon. Negotiations will probably not resume until Friday at the earliest.

The union considers management's latest outline for a proposal unacceptable. Upshaw called it a "$45 million takeback." Dick Berthelsen, general counsel for the union, said management's 11-page "proposal for settlement" takes $28 million from the players on the wage scale alone.

"In 1986, they spent $68 million on first-year players. What they proposed yesterday would spend $40 million, so that's a $28 million takeaway already. In the second year, when the wage scale proposes a $70,000 base salary {plus bonuses and incentives}, the loss is even bigger. The wage scale alone in the first two years would take away $90 million."

Management, of course, sees its proposal differently. "Our proposal to them was significant," Donlan said. "We made across-the-board improvements in every major economic area. We liberalized the structure of right of first refusal and compensation and we increased the roster to 47 and they say it's a giveback . . . "

If yesterday's comments on the free agency issue are any indication, the two sides will be apart for a while. Berthelsen said any sort of compensation would restrict movement of players. And Rozelle said he believes "unrestricted free agency" would not be good for the league.

In NFL news yesterday unrelated to the labor negotiations, Rozelle said he doesn't feel quarterback Art Schlichter, who is being treated for a gambling problem, should be reinstated this season. Schlichter said a week ago that he was seeking to come back into the league.

The commissioner reiterated that he planned to name an expansion committee next March, leading to the awarding of two expansion franchises in 1989 for the 1990 season.

Rozelle said he would rule today on whether Tampa Bay's signing of former University of Maryland and University of Miami defensive lineman Dan Sileo is legal. Sileo was ruled ineligible by the NCAA last week because his eligibility had expired. Tampa Bay went ahead and signed Sileo without a supplemental draft being held.

In a telephone interview from Los Angeles, United States Football League Commissioner Harry Usher said, "We'll get the owners together {by telephone} and talk about it" if the NFL players strike. He would not rule out the possibility of a reincarnation of the league in the event of a strike but said doing so on such short notice would be "very difficult . . . trying to do anything effectively.

"You wouldn't know if the strike would be two days, two weeks or two months," Usher said. "If it lasts just a little bit of time, we don't have TV, which is the whole issue."

In the USFL's court case against the NFL, a federal court jury in New York ruled the NFL violated antitrust laws but awarded the USFL only $3 in damages.

The USFL has appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and Usher said yesterday he expects a decision from the appeals court in 30 to 40 days. A victory for the USFL likely would result in a new trial. Staff writer Mark Asher contributed to this report.