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Well, yes, but does anyone really doubt that George Allen of the Chicago Blitz will find a way to get hold of the Blesto and United syndicate books next year? No.
National TV will be around for at least two years, guaranteeing each USFL club $1.21 million per season, but then what? It's a tricky business, tying your hopes to the whims of TV, which kills a new series every 20 minutes. "They have to have the live gate," Jim Finks, Chicago Bears general manager, says. "You don't make it as a studio show in this business. Nothing looks worse than a game played before empty stands."
The latest USFL figures show an average season-ticket sale of 17,000. Some clubs have sold fewer than 10,000. The Generals say they sold 6,900 season tickets in the 72 hours after Walker's signing, but Walker can play in only one stadium at a time. How many people are going to watch a late-season game between the Boston Breakers and the Arizona Wranglers? Pete Hadhazy, the USFL's director of operations, set the break-even attendance figure at 30,000 to 35,000.
How strong is the USFL's ownership? How many years of losses can it take? "Plenty," says Simmons. "I'll match our ownership against the NFL's any day." There are some fancy pedigrees: real estate millionaires, a cardiovascular surgeon, a noted judge, a former ambassador to Switzerland. According to one league official, Michigan Panthers owner A. Alfred Taubman is "the richest man in the state and one of the richest in the country." How about oil magnate J. Walter Duncan Jr., who signed Walker? "He's got $300 million—above ground," says a USFL source. Of course, the WFL had a few of those, too, but when they had to come up with some ready cash, rather than sell off a few assets they crumbled.
Then there's the matter of the commissioner's office. It began with something the WFL never had, instant credibility. The WFL's Gary Davidson was suspect from the start. He sold some of the franchises for $200,000 or whatever the traffic would bear. Others he gave to his friends for free. There was always the air of a hustler about him. Simmons, a former TV exec, had no such shortcomings. His knowledge of running a football league was minimal, but at least people liked him. He was straight. There were some nice little concepts in the USFL, like the money the league would give a kid to finish his college education. The USFL was like a baby alligator you bring home as a pet, a cute little thing that wriggles in your hand. But as it grows it's another matter.
Now the USFL has lost that friendly image, at least to people who are bothered by things like lies. The commissioner's office has become a joke. Rule: Salary structures will be held to $1.6 million per club. Then the big-money signings began—Spencer, James, Collier. New Rule: $1.6 million per club, but you can shell out for two higher-priced players. More big packages. Newer Rule: Do what you want, but keep it reasonable.
Rule: We won't touch underclassmen. Then Herschel signs. New Rule: We won't touch any more of them, honest.
Simmons said the fear of a lawsuit pushed the league into the Walker signing, and he isn't worried about the Marcus Duprees and Mike Roziers of this world storming the gates, because "Herschel was a special case. He was ready to play pro football. He had the maturity." Which would be one swell defense in court. "Your Honor, we are prepared to prove Herschel Walker is more mature than Mike Rozier."
Many of the USFL's own people don't buy this nonsense, and at least one of them, Philadelphia Stars General Manager Carl Peterson, is disturbed about the league's handling of the Walker incident. "I have very mixed emotions about it," says Peterson, the chairman of the USFL's College-Pro Relations Committee. "College coaches have been our life-blood. I'm not excited about trying to defend our position with these guys."
Last year Walker's attorney, Jack Manton, hinted at a legal challenge against the NFL prohibition on signing undergrads, and nothing came of it. The NFL was—and is—sticking by its policy of keeping away from them. "If we have to take a lawsuit, then we'll take it," Pete Rozelle said. The reason no one ever sued is that a football player wants to play football. He isn't about to spend two of the most important years of his career in a courtroom.