The 57-day pro football strike that threatened to run on ad infinitum is over , and now everybody is busy tallying up the final score.
Basically it was a split decision that will take quite a while to digest. In terms both of their pocketbooks and their image with the public, however, the scoreboard most definitely reads: Owners, 0; Players 0. Each side pried some concessions from the other, but neither party made any points with the disgruntled public. And the short-term bottom line appears very heavily in red in both columns.
The owners are reportedly out $200 million, the players $70 million, making this not only the longest strike in sports history but the costliest as well.
Certainly these mounting losses were a goad to all concerned to push harder for a settlement. So too was the fact that if the strike had lasted much longer , the entire season appeared in dire jeopardy.
To say that either side cracked under pressure would be an oversimplification. The players, however, did bend enough toward the end to alter the course of what appeared to be dead-end negotiations. The result was a four-year, $1.6 billion package in which management agreed to some hefty wage increases but avoided the key union demands that would have shifted some control of the game's economy from the owners to the players.
The final stages of the talks came after the owners' bargaining team, tired of getting nowhere with the union negotiators, called for an end run. Copies of management's offer were distributed to each NFL club so that players could learn individually what exactly was on the table.
As an upshot, teams began voting on whether to accept the package in principle. Results were mixed, but there was little question that a once-silent majority had emerged which favored ending the holdout.
A fair number of players were running low on grocery money, and only a few had arranged for any sort of strike insurance, something the union didn't adequately provide. Even so, the union flexed much more muscle than management had originally thought possible.
''We demonstrated solidarity, and the players demonstrated . . . that they are the most important element of the game,'' said Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFL Players Association.
The players were much better organized than during an aborted pre-season strike in 1974, when union support was spotty. Even so, Detroit linebacker Stan White, a member of the NFLPA executive committee, was realistic in assessment of the outcome. ''We touched on all the points we went on strike for, but we weren't satisfied on any of them. But an agreement had to be reached now to get anything accomplished this year.''
The players will get their $1.6 billion over five years, rather than the four years they had proposed. This should translate into a substantial increase in the average salary, currently in the $80,000 to $90,000 range, but far below that in baseball and basketball. And these sums will not be linked to a percentage of gross revenues or TV income, which was originally another key union demand.
The owners stood fast on this point but agreed to reopen contract talks if the league enters the cable television market.
Management also largely resisted efforts to create a wage scale that would have based salaries on years of service and certain performance criteria. There is a provision, however, for salary minimums, beginning with $30,000 for a 1982 rookie and rising to a maximum of $200,000. In addition, there will be immediate signing bonuses based on seniority.
A clause that apparently pleases the rank and file establishes the NFL as the first pro league with severance pay. Now coaches faced with cutting a high-priced veteran or keeping a low-salaried rookie will have to think twice, because the vet receives $10,000 for each year of service up to 14.
When news filtered out at midweek of the settlement, all that remained was the formal consent of the 1,500 NFL players and 28 team owners, who reportedly stood ready to rubber stamp the new pact.
League cash registers were set to ring again on Sunday, when the season will resume after an eight-week disruption. This hardly gives players the necessary practice time, particularly in a contact sport where an adjustment period is especially important. But there's a sense of urgency in salvaging what's left of the schedule.
Instead of the regular 16-week campaign, the new plan is to play nine games. Two games were played before the strike began, six regular-season games remain on the schedule, and one game per team will be made up on the weekend of Jan. 2- 3.
The playoff format has been altered. The teams with the eight best records in each conference will enter the post-season contest, squaring off with one another until there two contestants for the Super Bowl, which will be held Jan. 30 in Pasadena as planned.