The main stumbling block in the protracted negotiations is the controversial so-called Rozelle Rule. The owners contend that it should be a bargaining issue; but since the courts have cast doubt on the rule's legality, Garvey says it should not be subject to negotiation.
For months the two sides have failed to progress beyond this "threshold issue." Despite the conciliatory words of Federal Mediator W. J. Usery, who played a tireless role in forging last week's truce, it still will take a mighty shove to open the door. Management gave the first nudge on Monday when it offered a series of proposals, including a new twist on the Rozelle Rule.
In the past, when a pro played out his option and signed with a new club, his former team could bargain for—or Rozelle could summarily assign—any of the players on the other team as compensation. Under the new proposal, only those players with fewer than four years service, or about half the NFL players, would be available for exchange. Similar modifications had been discussed before, but Monday was the first time they formally had been put in writing. That alone is a positive sign. And there are indications that, if the owners are willing to liberalize the Rozelle Rule significantly, then the players will relax their position and allow it to become a bargaining issue.
As negotiators worked toward the Oct. 2 deadline when the players will announce their vote on the latest proposal, the pros seemed to be following a new unwritten rule: plunge ahead with or without the Rozelle Rule, with or without Garvey's approval.
That is partly because many people in football have come to believe that the NFL's internal squabbles are angering the fans. "Neither management nor the players are all right or all wrong," says Detroit Coach Rick Forzano. "But it's all wrong for football." Perhaps the whole thing will make sense in 2175.