MSL players agree to contract rollbacks League's future rests on franchise talks

August 06, 1991|By Susan Reimer

The Major Soccer League is saved -- for another week at least.

Commissioner Earl Foreman yesterday announced an accord with the players' union on contract rollbacks and expressed confidence that the league would begin play in late October.

However, Foreman said the MSL's future hinges on uncertain negotiations in Dallas to revive the Sidekicks and equally uncertain efforts in Pittsburgh to start up an expansion team.

The MSL owners will meet by teleconference Monday to hear the results of those negotiations and decide whether the season is a "go."

"I have great confidence that we will play the 1991-92 season," said Foreman. "I believe the league will go forward with seven or eight teams. I believe Dallas will be one of those.

"But that is the purpose of the [owners'] meeting Monday."

And so the crisis in the indoor league shifted from acrimony between the owners and the players over rollbacks -- the players apparently have accepted them all -- to uncertainty about the individual franchises themselves.

"I will take one day at a time, one step at a time," said Foreman. "By the conference call Monday, hopefully everything will be final."

Or at least by next Wednesday, when the teams must have their letter of credit on file.

"We can't go later than Aug. 14 on this," said Foreman. "Absolutely not."

While the MSL has resuscitated failing franchises in Tacoma and San Diego, the Kansas City franchise has failed. That leaves the league with six teams, including Baltimore, Wichita, St. Louis and Cleveland. And there is apparently some resistance among the owners to playing with one seven-team division league, instead of two four-team divisions.

"There was a consensus to go forward with seven teams," Foreman said after the owners met by teleconference yesterday. But he added, "Pittsburgh is dubious about seven teams." And, he said, Pittsburgh's ownership is not certain it can field an expansion team in such a short time.

"Pittsburgh is on the fence," he said. Foreman said much hinges on Dallas, where he spent last week trying to put together new ownership for the Sidekicks. "If Dallas doesn't come through, it looks bad [for the league]," said Foreman. "But I have the same degree of confidence in Dallas that I did in San Diego [which was revived]."

Just moments before Foreman was scheduled to talk to MSL owners yesterday afternoon, the MSL Players Association agreed to "basically" everything the owners proposed in the July memorandum that the MSLPA rejected Thursday.

Kerr said he agreed to the rollbacks because Foreman said the league would fold without them -- but go forward with them.

"I spoke with the commissioner just moments before he went into the meeting with the owners and he insisted to me that the meeting was to wrap up the league," said Kerr.

"But he said to me, 'I believe we will have a league in the fall if you agree to the package.' I had never been able to get him to say that before."

Kerr said the two sides agreed "in principle" and he hoped to address some of the players' concerns during the drafting of the new deal.

"Hopefully there will be some give and take."

If there were concessions by the owners, Foreman would not describe them. "I am sticking by the term 'basically,' " the commissioner responded to repeated questions.

He did say the players agreed to a salary cap of $525,000, plus an optional $25,000, and a 16-man roster for the 40-game season. This is down from a $650,000 salary cap and an 18-man roster last season, and these were the concessions demanded by the owners on July 25.

"I am most appreciative of the attempts the players have made with the ownership to try to make the league go forward," said Foreman of his union counterpart, John Kerr. "We felt there could not be continuing acrimony between the two of us."

On Thursday, Kerr rejected the owners' proposal, which also included a 5.5 percent pay cut for contract players, and submitted a counterproposal. But his bargaining position was severely undercut when players from four teams -- including the Baltimore Blast -- faxed letters to the league office saying they would accept the owners' demands.

Blast player representative Rusty Troy was relieved. "It sounds great to me. It has been a strange three weeks, but hopefully it will all work out."

Foreman said the rollbacks are good for the remaining two years of the collective bargaining agreement, but said that if the financial health of the league improved, the salary cap could go up.

NOTES: Foreman said he is closing the MSL offices near the defunct Kansas City franchise and will begin moving them to the Baltimore-Washington area. He would not say exactly where or when the new offices would open. . . . Foreman also said players from the defunct Kansas City franchise would be part of a dispersal draft. . . . A confident Blast signed G Cris Vaccaro before the decision on the future of the league was made. Tacoma refused to match the offer made by Baltimore to Vaccaro, The Evening Sun reported. That undoubtedly means the Blast will not re-sign All-Star Scott Manning, whose contract expires Aug. 31. Manning, who been with Baltimore since 1982, was not available for comment yesterday.

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