SCHAUMBURG, ILL., SEPT. 10 -- National Football League owners today voted to keep playing with anyone who will cross the picket line in case of an NFL Players Association strike later this month.

The owners also voted to accept a credit line in excess of $100 million to protect against potential losses in television revenue and ticket refunds.

The 28 owners and their chief negotiator, Jack Donlan of the NFL Management Council, acknowledged after meeting among themselves and with union chief Gene Upshaw that, of all the issues in question when negotiations resume Saturday, only one is preventing management and the players from agreeing on a new collective bargaining agreement: free agency. A strike deadline has been set for Sept. 22.

Hugh Culverhouse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers described this morning's meeting with Upshaw as "worthwhile." And several of the owners said they believe Upshaw sincerely wants to avert a strike. But that didn't prevent the owners from voting to keep their doors open if the union does strike just after the Sept. 21 Monday night game.

Donlan said that 19 of the 28 clubs have given $1,000 guarantees to players who were cut in this preseason. And owners clearly expect that some of the union members will decide to break the ranks and play, as a few already have said they might do.

"We will play with whatever players we can get to play, any that are available," Donlan said. "This is the fifth {series of} negotiations we've had with this union {1968, 1970, 1974 and 1982} and there have been four strikes. There is a high level of frustration among the owners. We didn't think at all that we'd be in this position . . . But we cannot afford a work stoppage.

"No one said this is a perfect solution . . . No one's enthusiastic about this . . . but it took us 3 1/2 years to get the fans back {after the 1982 strike which lasted 57 days} and we can't afford to lose the fans again."

Asked if all 28 teams could find enough able players to field teams, Dallas Cowboys General Manager Tex Schramm said: "Certainly. I think there are many players out there who would consider it the highlight of their lives. We're not going to do what we have in the past, which is shut down. We're going after football entertainment. We wouldn't have any difficulty at all getting a team ready to play."

He said that one of his players in Dallas indicated "that we're not a strong union team, anyway, and probably half of our team would come in and play."

The union, of course, figures it has a united front. "Our attitude is that this would be a dumb idea, that the fans wouldn't accept it, that the veteran players won't cross the picket line and that it would leave a bad taste in everybody's mouth," Doug Allen of the players association said in Washington.

Of the possibility of players crossing picket lines, Washington Redskins player representative Neal Olkewicz said: "Obviously, we'll do our best to stop that . . . I can't see fans supporting a bunch of players who were cut and I can't see television paying for it."

Offensive tackle Darrick Brilz is one of the players who accepted a $1,000 guarantee when he was cut by the Redskins. Although he said he hopes there is no strike, he said: "If it comes around to it, I'd be ready to play."

Upshaw was not available for comment. Upshaw met with the management council's executive committee this morning and, according to Donlan, met with Commissioner Pete Rozelle Wednesday night. Rozelle did not attend the owners meeting.

Donlan and the owners said that no details have been worked out regarding the league having to refund network television money. "I think the networks will televise our games," he said. ". . . It depends on what the sponsors tell the networks."

Rozelle said Tuesday he expected the networks to televise games during a strike and that rebates would be made later, depending on TV ratings.

The owners indicated there will be a ticket refund plan, although details have yet to be defined.

Despite all the contingency plans, both sides contend they still will try to reach an agreement before the strike deadline. The NFLPA says there are seven bargaining priorities that remain; management says there are 304.

But, in reality, there is only one. When asked if it is clear what the issues are, Culverhouse said: "I think so. Free agency."

When asked if the owners have any intentions of "giving" a bit more, Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers said, "On free agency? No. Free agency didn't work in baseball and in football it would be much more difficult because we have so many more players. I don't think any of us see free agency as workable . . . All the other issues are negotiable."

Donlan said free agency "is clearly the major sticking point."

Negotiations are to resume Saturday, though no time and place have been set. Donlan said he anticipates "around-the-clock" negotiations. "We can clearly get this thing done," he said.

Some bit of optimism emerged, despite the fact that the two sides have talked "officially" only 17 times since April 20.

"The fact that Gene took the time to come here at this stage is a good sign," Rooney said. "I believe Gene sincerely does not want a strike. That does not mean we won't have one. But the fact that he came here to talk with us today, I think, shows that he has made a commitment to talk."

Meantime, the disagreement between the union and management over drug testing -- one of the remaining issues on the table -- was being played out in the House of Representatives' Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control's hearings on the prevention of drug abuse in sports.

The union feels that the system for testing outlined in the expired agreement is sufficient and that education and rehabilitation should be emphasized. Management wants mandatory random testing included in any new collective bargaining agreement.

"The players must realize that continually and reflexively opposing drug testing as a violation of personal rights will ultimately damage their interests by undermining the public's confidence," said Jan Van Duser, the NFL's director of operations.

"Management already has the ability to test the players who have a problem in the National Football League," Allen testified. "What we have to do is come to grips with the root cause and train people to deal with it, not to use videotapes and a one-hour session in training camp."

Special correspondent Steve Berkowitz in Washington contributed to this report.