KANSAS CITY, MO., OCT. 27 -- Jack Donlan, the NFL's chief labor negotiator, said today that the players' pension fund surplus -- which had been $40 million -- has "for all intents and purposes" been "wiped out."
The news came during the National Football League owners' annual fall meetings.
Last week's stock market plunge cut the surplus to $1 million, Donlan said, although it was not clear if the fund managers had sold stock for losses or if the losses are on paper only.
Donlan said tonight that he would like to resume negotiations with the NFL Players Association soon, but that reaching agreement on one of the major issues -- pension benefits for the players -- could become a problem because of the market decline.
"For all intents and purposes, last week's stock market activities wiped out our surplus," he said. "I don't know how much we're going to be restricted by what happened."
Commissioner Pete Rozelle said: "They had money to play around with until the stock market thing. It pretty well wiped out the surplus."
There were some issues that were within the control of the owners today, including increasing the size of rosters, effectively, to 50 for the rest of this season after this week. By Tuesday, clubs can have a maximum of 45 players on their active rosters, and five on their inactive rosters.
The league's 28 owners or their representatives and Rozelle held their annual fall meetings to discuss matters ranging from the ramifications of the recent 24-day NFL players' strike to expansion, the college draft and playing exhibition games overseas.
It was expected that the owners would do something to keep at least a few of the replacement players on each team, and some of the veterans who might otherwise be replaced by the irregulars.
Roster sizes for the recently completed games of Week 7 were a maximum 85, although no team retained that many players. For games in upcoming Week 8, teams may keep 45 active, plus 10 inactive, with the decision on which players are active to be set by 4 p.m. Saturday. Beginning Nov. 8 and for the rest of the season, teams can keep 45 and five.
The owners, in recent years, have opposed paying more than 45 players. And even today, several owners favor keeping the limit at 45. The NFL players' union had been asking that rosters be increased from 45 to 52; the owners had been requesting 47.
Asked why the owners decided to increase the roster size now, Rozelle said: "The turbulence of the strike season . . . It was an opportunity to keep some veterans who might otherwise be replaced by replacement players, and also keep some replacement players."
Each team will have eight unrestricted moves off injured reserve, meaning eight times clubs can make personnel changes without those players having to first clear waivers. Clubs usually get eight moves from the beginning of the season.
The owners also set the date for the 1988 college draft as Sunday April 24.
It will begin at noon and will be televised live on ESPN, the all-sports network. Only four rounds of the draft will be conducted that day, with the rest spilling over into Monday.
The league expanding from 28 to 30 teams was also discussed, but it was not a priority. Rozelle said he would like to see a collective bargaining agreement in place before appointing an expansion committee in the spring.
Asked if he had talked with the owners about expansion, he said: "Their minds have been on other things the last two weeks, of course."
But he added: "As of this time, I still intend to appoint an expansion committee in April."
Art Modell of the Cleveland Browns said as far as he and many of the other owners are concerned, "No agreement, no expansion," which could be bad news for cities such as Baltimore, Jacksonville and Phoenix.
Tex Schramm, president of the Dallas Cowboys, said there was no discussion of changing the playoff structure or having a split season because of the strike. After some discussion, the executives decided not to tamper with tie-breaking procedures.
There was discussion concerning the possibility of corporate ownership of clubs, but not much. "It came up, as it has come up at past meetings," Schramm said. "But it passed on to future meetings."
The owners also discussed the possibility of the public sale of stock by some clubs; the NBA's Boston Celtics, for example, have gone public. No action was taken, but the subject is expected to come up again, probably in the spring meetings.
Although some executives around the league feel the NFL should allow corporate ownership, many are against the idea. Schramm said there didn't seem to be any stonger sentiment today for the idea than at past meetings.
The owners also discussed next year's preseason games and playing games overseas, including a game between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings that will be played in Goteborg, Sweden, and will be sponsored by Volvo, the automaker.
The owners are also expected to discuss a possible strike fund, with each team coming up with a specific dollar amount instead of the NFL seeking a line of credit as it has done twice as insurance against player strikes.
Schramm said that, too, would probably come up in the spring meeting.