WAY TO GO, JACK
The USFL took a promising first step toward closing the quarterback gap between itself and the NFL last week when one of its expansion teams, the Oklahoma Outlaws, signed Doug Williams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' signal caller since 1978, to a five-year contract. Williams, a free agent who'd been unable to come to terms with the Bucs, turned to the USFL when no other NFL teams bid for him, even though quite a few of them clearly could have used a quarterback of his proven ability. Trouble is, under terms of the collective-bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association that ended last year's strike, player movement within the NFL is impeded by requirements that teams signing free agents must pay compensation in the form of draft choices. As a result, bidding for free agents is too costly for most teams to contemplate. And so Williams accepted an offer from outside the NFL.
The fact that a feisty rival like the USFL has emerged to challenge the NFL for players ought to make the older league think twice about some of the restrictions it has imposed on player movement among its own 28 clubs. Back when it had only the Canadian Football League to worry about, the NFL had every reason to try to fend off true free agency, something it succeeded in doing largely because the NFLPA has improvidently chosen not to force the issue. But with the USFL now in the picture, NFL Management Council Executive Director Jack Donlan sounded more suicidal than arrogant when, discussing the lack of mobility of NFL players, he recently told USA Today, "As far as the players go, they still have freedom of choice. They have 'free agency' to go to another league...."
Donlan spoke those words a few days before Williams bolted to the USFL.
Congratulations, Jack. The system works.
IN DEFENSE OF RESOURCES
New York Governor Mario Cuomo last week signed legislation increasing the minimum size of striped bass that may be caught in the state's coastal waters from 16 to 24 inches. The measure, a response to the precipitous decline in the stock of the striped bass in its Chesapeake Bay spawning grounds and all along its migratory path, followed similar legislative action by Massachusetts, Maryland and other states on the Eastern Seaboard. Cuomo's decision to sign the bill into law in the face of heavy opposition from his state's commercial fishing industry served to acknowledge that the oceans can no longer be considered an unlimited resource.
Florida Governor Bob Graham also acted last week to preserve natural resources—or, rather, to restore them. Graham announced a wide-ranging "Save Our Everglades" project that, he privately admitted, was really intended to "save" all of south Florida environmentally. Reacting to the effects of decades of development, Graham proposed the widespread reflooding of previously drained marshland, including the restoration of the Kissimmee River to the meandering 90-mile stretch of water it had been before being diverted into a 48-mile canal. The intent is to reinstate the southerly flowing sheet of water that is the life-blood of the Everglades (SI, March 15, 1982 et seq.). Graham also called for federal and state acquisition of more than 100,000 acres of land to protect the habitat of the virtually extinct Florida panther. The Kissimmee's restoration would require federal cooperation, and while there's no indication such cooperation will be forthcoming from the Reagan Administration, Graham expressed faith that his plan will eventually be carried out. The alternative, he said, was "the collapse of an entire ecosystem now under acute stress."
THEN THE ICE MELTED, AND...
During an appearance on NBC-TV's Today show recently, Terry McLaughlin, skipper of Canada 1, one of the foreign yachts vying to be the America's Cup challenger, had the following exchange with host Jane Pauley: