Five days before the start of the NFL's 72nd season, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that the league could settle its five-year labor battle with the players without going to trial.
In a teleconference with writers, Tagliabue said, "There's reasons to think we may be able to settle these matters without going to court in February."
But Jim Quinn, lawyer for the players, replied, "I don't share the commissioner's ebullient optimism." He said he expects the free-agency trial to start on schedule Feb. 17 in Minneapolis.
The league is entering its fifth season without a collective bargaining agreement.
Tagliabue said: "This summer for the first time, we've had what I would call serious and constructive discussions with representatives of the players on free agency and other matters. I've been involved for many years, and these discussions have been the most serious and constructive at least since 1987 and probably earlier."
But Quinn said, "There were no substantive proposals made, and the ideas we discussed led me to believe we were going nowhere."
Tagliabue also said the owners could win the trial because they spend a larger percentage of revenue on player salaries than any other sport and have the most players granted free agency under Plan B.
Quinn replied: "If he's so confident, I think they ought to try the case. I may not be as confident as the commissioner sounds, but we'll show up. We strongly believe in the case. I guess the best team will win, as they say in the NFL."
Tagliabue also said the owners remain committed to expanding by two teams in 1994, but said the cities won't be named before next fall.
Tagliabue, who had said earlier this year that the league would experiment with pay-per-view by 1992 or 1993, said the league has now decided not to do any experimenting before the current TV contract expires after the 1993 season.
He also said he favors continuing the World League of American Football and said the NFL may open offices in Europe and the Far East to further the sport's global expansion.