That means that for now both groups are operating in an open market, an economic system NFL owners swear will lead their sport straight to perdition even though it seems to do all right by the rest of the free world. What the NFL owners seem to fear most is themselves. They argue that without the restraints that they have imposed on themselves and which the courts continue to declare illegal, cutthroat financial competition will arise, spelling the end of the draft, scouting, team stability, reasonable ticket prices and the competitive balance that fills stadiums and attracts TV dollars. Give us liberty, the NFL owners moan, and give us death.
It is conceivable that the draft—now the culmination of an expensive, highly repetitious scouting process—could lose its significance in an open market. "This draft is going to become a lot less important," one NFL spokesman said Thursday, shortly after Tampa Bay had made Defensive End Leroy Selmon of Oklahoma the No. 1 choice of the 487 athletes to be selected. "With no option compensation rule, why should you spend the time scouting a guy if you may keep him only one year? It's smarter to wait and see if he can play pro football, then sign him."
That's the NFL's way of forecasting gloomy days, but it is a self-serving and somewhat specious argument. If the legality of the draft is finally upheld, is it logical to assume that some NFL owners, so dedicated to one-upmanship in other aspects of the game, would suddenly let their colleagues monopolize first-year players? And if the owners did abandon scouting, wouldn't the money saved cover the feared increase in player salaries and perhaps even lead to lower-priced tickets?
One must assume for the present, however, that the NFL owners will continue to try to shackle their own worst instincts and revive their compensation system. And that leaves another question unanswered. If some form of the rule is reinstated, will the Giants, Washington and Cleveland be assessed compensation retroactively?
In addition to the Plunkett deal two other trades of more than casual interest prefaced the college draft by a week. In one of them, Cincinnati tried to reach defensive parity with the Steelers by acquiring Defensive End Coy Bacon from San Diego for Wide Receiver Charlie Joiner. In the second trade Houston swapped Lynn Dickey, a backup quarterback for three seasons, to Green Bay for John Hadl, All-Pro Cornerback Ken Ellis, a fourth-round draft choice last week and a third-rounder next year.
Even without the various signings, trades and a long-delayed beginning that coincided with the opening of the baseball season and the Masters golf tournament, it is doubtful that last week's college draft would have generated the enthusiasm it has in other years. Those who suspected that this year's crop was low on quality had little reason to change their opinion, especially when Friday's session began with Seattle taking LSU's Larry Shipp, listed as a wide receiver. Shipp, the NCAA high-hurdles champ, hasn't played football since high school. At that, he may have been a better choice than San Diego's 12th-round selection, Ron Lee, the second-team basketball All-America from Oregon who has never played football. Basketball also contributed Michigan's Wayman Britt and Indiana's Quinn Buckner, who opposed each other in the NCAA championship two weeks ago, to the Redskins.
With no blue-chip quarterback available among the college seniors, the 6'3", 262-pound Leroy Selmon was a predictable No. 1 choice and the fourth defensive lineman so honored in the last five years. Tampa Bay kept the Sooner defensive siblings together by taking Dewey Selmon (6'1", 257 pounds) at the end of the second round.
For quaintness, however, the Bucs' brother act couldn't match that of the Jets, who took Don and Dave Buckey, a wide receiver and quarterback respectively, the first set of twins selected by the same team in the same round (12th) of the same draft. The Buckey twins had played for Lou Holtz, the Jets' new coach, at North Carolina State.
Seattle caused one of the few surprises Thursday when its opening choice was Notre Dame's Steve Niehaus, a defensive tackle, rather than Chuck Muncie, California's superb running back.
"Niehaus is the kind of guy who can play 10 years in this league," said Seattle Assistant Coach Larry Peccatiello. "A running back isn't going to last that long." Incidentally, no less than 200 selections were made before another Notre Dame player was drafted. He was Ed Bauer, a guard who went to New Orleans.