CARLISLE, PA., JULY 24 -- National Football League owners today responded to a lawsuit challenging the legality of their six-man developmental squads by abandoning the program.
The suit was filed on behalf of several players and underwritten by the NFL Players Association. It charged that by paying each of the players a flat $1,000 per week for last year's 16-week season, the players' rights to collective bargaining were violated (the league's minimum salary is $50,000).
The league defended the squads by saying they were composed only of young players who had been cut and cleared waivers, that in some cases the $1,000 per week was more than they would have made in other jobs and allowed them to stay in football and earn more in the future.
But instead of fighting another suit in court, the NFL axed the entire program today as the owners voted by electronic voice mail.
Instead, NFL owners decided to use 47-man rosters in 1990 with two players inactive. Last year, they used a 45-man active roster, a two-man inactive squad and a six-man developmental squad.
NFL coaches have complained that killing the developmental squad will leave them without enough bodies for practice. More likely, more players will be hidden on injured reserve, meaning they can practice with the team after the first four weeks of the season.
The owners had been scheduled to decide the matter Thursday in Chicago, but canceled that meeting. They also were scheduled to discuss the complaints lodged by college teams against the NFL about spring tryout camps and the draft and to make an announcement on expansion.
The league announced today that the college committee would continue to review options and that an announcement on expansion would come out of the NFL office on Thursday. It's expected that two expansion cities will be named next year and that the teams will begin play in 1993.
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs criticized the decision on the developmental squads, saying, "Can we live without it? Yes. Are we going to have as good a football team? No. No way. But we'll do the best we can."
NFLPA officials and attorneys who handled the suit also criticized the decision.
"It is simply remarkable that this league, which just signed a four-billion-dollar television deal, can't and won't pay a decent wage to these players," attorney Joseph Yablonski said. "At least this year the players who would have been assigned to developmental squads will be free to sign on with any club during the season when any club needs help at a position the player can fill. And the player will be free to negotiate a salary, not have one set for him that the clubs' owners have themselves agreed upon."
A management council spokesman was not available for comment.