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ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST
With its Rozelle Rule shot down, pro football now finds itself in much the same position as big-league baseball, whose reserve clause was eviscerated a week earlier. As its baseball counterpart had, the pro football Establishment reacted bitterly and said it would fight the decision, presumably all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
O.K., once more, what is the Rozelle Rule? It came into being a decade or so ago after pro football supposedly accepted the principle that a man under contract could "play out his option." The option clause gives a team the right to a player's services for one more season after the original terms of the contract expire. If a player does not sign a new contract he theoretically has the right to leave his team after his option year and sign with any other team. The Rozelle Rule pretty much vitiated this concept of free movement by insisting that teams signing such players recompense the team of origin, usually with draft choices or players of equal value. If there was disagreement, the commissioner decided upon the proper award for the team losing the player, and sometimes his decision stung the other team. As a result, clubs generally displayed little eagerness to sign one another's newly sprung free agents. And so freedom of movement remained more a theory than a fact. In effect, players remained bound to one team even though they were no longer under contract to that team. The owners retained their right to the players' future services without—or before—paying for that right. This has been traditional and accepted practice in professional sports in this country, but its legality has been under repeated attack.
Professional football will appeal last week's ruling, trying to postpone a final decision through months and years of litigation. But isn't it time for the owners to face reality and recognize the inevitable? Instead of employing the tedious, expensive, rancorous devices of delay, isn't it time for a few clear-thinking people to come up with workable, mutually acceptable solutions to the problem? It has to be done eventually. Why not now?
A note from a friend says, "I was going through The Baseball Encyclopedia looking for rookies to compare to Fred Lynn and Jim Rice and came upon Shoeless Joe Jackson's first full season in 1911. Wow!
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He must have been cheating then, too."
BIG LITTLE DECISION