WLAF springs into view this weekend


Don't leave your television this weekend; you might miss a major sports event.

Oh, sure, the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament will be whittled down to the Final Four.

No, that's not it.

Aha, it's Showtime's replay of the controversial heavyweight fight between Mike Tyson and Donovan "Razor" Ruddock.


Hmm, is it the "Battle of the Network Sports TV Critics," featuring Norman Chad of The National vs. Rudy Martzke of USA Today?

A good idea, but not this weekend.

No, it's the debut of the World League of American Football. It's the London Monarchs, the Sacramento Surge and the Barcelona Dragons. It's Stan Gelbaugh and Paul Palmer. It's two-point conversions. It's better quarterbacks in the broadcast booth than on the field.

The WLAF (all together now: what-a-laugh) is the National Football League's venture into the spring football market, the same market the NFL said didn't exist back when it was occupied by the late United States Football League. All but two of the NFL's 28 teams are shareholders in the WLAF (the Phoenix Cardinals and Chicago Bears stayed out).

The WLAF also has a $48 million television contract with USA Network and ABC.

What should viewers expect today (Montreal Machine at Birmingham Fire, 8 p.m., USA) and tomorrow (New York-New Jersey Knights at Barcelona Dragons, 1 p.m., channels 13, 7)?

* No-huddle offense: "We think it's more appealing to see a two-minute offense for 60 minutes," says league president Mike Lynn.

.' * Radio-operated quarterbacks:

The league is planning to equip quarterbacks with helmets that have radio receivers through which coaches, using walkie-talkies, can speak.

* Few big names: Palmer, the 1987 No. 1 draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Gelbaugh, the ex-Maryland quarterback who has been an NFL backup, are among the few recognizable players on WLAF rosters. There are some players who were prominent in college -- quarterbacks Ben Bennett, Kerwin Bell and Tony Rice, for example. And Craig Morton is in the league -- but he's a wide receiver from Dartmouth.

* Empty seats: The Orlando Thunder has sold fewer than 3,500 season tickets for the 70,000-seat Florida Citrus Bowl, and sales in Europe are in the hundreds.

As for the television coverage, USA's gimmick for its cable coverage Saturday nights and Monday nights is to have analysts you know better than the guys on the field. Three current NFL quarterbacks -- Warren Moon, Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino -- are analysts.

ABC's Sunday games will feature Brent Musburger and Dick Vermeil.

"There's no illusions here," Musburger said this week. "We're no going to beat the regional finals of the NCAA tournament or [later] knock

off the NBA playoffs. But we don't have to. We can settle in and grow a little bit."


Channel 11 was very much in the minority when it chose not to carry all of CBS' NCAA basketball tournament selection show, and last night the station again went against the grain -- only this time in a positive way. About one-third of the country got to see an early (7:30) NCAA game from the tip-off, and Baltimore was part of that lucky group. Channel 11 deserves credit for pre-empting that half-hour for the benefit of basketball fans.

WLAF at a glance

Teams: European Division -- Barcelona Dragons, Frankfurt Galaxy and London Monarchs; North American East Division -- Montreal Machine, New York-New Jersey Knights, Orlando Thunder, Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks; North American West Division -- Birmingham Fire, Sacramento Surge, San Antonio Riders.

Format: 10-game regular season, divisional playoffs June 2 and World Bowl championship June 9 at a site to be announced.

Franchise cost: $11 million.

Salary structure: Base of $25,000 for quarterbacks, $15,000 for kickers and $20,000 for all other positions, plus incentives (up to $100,000 for league MVP). Base of $100,000 for coaches, plus incentives (up to $170,000 for coach of WLAF champions).

Roster size: 40-man limit, including four non-American players on each team.

Major rule changes: No instant replay; celebrations are allowed; 35 seconds between plays; kickoffs fielded in end zone must be returned; option to try two-point conversions after touchdowns; overtime winner is first to score at least six points or lead at end of 15-minute period; no chop-blocking.

Opening week schedule: Today -- London at Frankfurt, 1 p.m.; Raleigh-Durham at Sacramento, 7 p.m.; Montreal at Birmingham, p.m.; tomorrow -- New York-New Jersey at Barcelona, noon; Monday -- San Antonio at Orlando, 8 p.m.

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