NFL grows more puzzling, as expansion talk contrasts with action

PRO FOOTBALL

June 02, 1991|By VITO STELLING

What the NFL says it's going to do on expansion and what it does often are two different things.

Take, for example, commissioner Paul Tagliabue's announcement a week ago that he was going to add two members to the owners' expansion committee after he had named the first three at a meeting in Minneapolis.

It turned out last week that he named three more -- Alex Spanos of the San Diego Chargers, Rankin Smith of the Atlanta Falcons and Hugh Culverhouse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Originally, I planned a five-owner committee but decided on six members due to the expansion workload and the interest within the league in this issue," Tagliabue said.

Expansion workload? The field isn't scheduled to be cut until March. That's not exactly a frantic schedule. It's also difficult to figure out how the interest changed in the past week.

Tagliabue's puzzling, often contradictory remarks on expansion (he said a year ago the league would expand "certainly by 1993" and is now talking about doing it in 1994) is one reason the speculation started last week that expansion could be delayed by the latest developments in the legal dispute between the players and owners.

The decision by Judge David Doty in Minneapolis that the National Football League Players Association is not a union -- if upheld by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals -- means the league will have to undergo an antitrust trial to defend its free-agency restrictions.

That could well be the impediment the league talked about that could delay expansion.

The league's only comment is that no decision will be made before fall 1992.

But Doug Allen, assistant executive director of the NFLPA, was quick to say his group shouldn't be blamed for any expansion delay. Expansion is one issue the NFLPA won't fight the owners on, because it means more jobs.

Noting that the league expanded without a collective-bargaining agreement in 1976, Allen said: "I don't think there's ever been a legal impediment to expansion. They can do what they want to about expansion."

Allen said the NFL is just looking for an excuse not to expand because the owners don't want to divide the television pie two more ways.

"This just means they have nobody to blame when congressmen call," Allen said. "They just don't want to add more folks to the dining-room table [to divide the television money]."

Allen's comment about Congress calling is the one hope that expansion won't be delayed. Sen. Albert Gore, D-Tenn., is lobbying the NFL to expand by more than two teams. He's not likely to succeed, but if the league delays expansion again, it would risk raising the ire of Congress.

Meanwhile, the expansion hopefuls will have to sit and wait to see what the league does.

The hopes of the World League of American Football to have a smashing finale to its first year will be riding today on the shoulders of former University of Maryland quarterback Stan Gelbaugh, who plays for the London Monarchs.

There seems to be little doubt that the league is hoping Gelbaugh, unanimously voted the league's offensive Most Valuable Player by the coaches after passing for 2,655 yards and leading the team to a 9-1 record, pulls out today's game against the New York-New Jersey Knights.

The World Bowl is being played next week in London, and if the Monarchs qualify, a sellout crowd is likely.

The success of the World League in Europe has been startling. For the final regular-season games last week, Frankfurt drew 51,653 and London 50,835.

In Frankfurt, the stadium has only 37,500 seats. After those seats were sold out, the club sold standing-room tickets for behind one end zone. A fireworks displayed had been planned for behind the other end zone, but when the fans kept coming, the display was taken down and tickets for that end zone sold out.

2& About 4,000 fans were turned away.

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Despite the success of the first year of the league in Europe, it isn't changing its low-cost profile.

The off-season headquarters of the Barcelona team, where the coaching staff will work, will be in the basement of one of the

assistant coaches on Jack Bicknell's staff in Boston.

That's a far cry from the multimillion-dollar complexes that many NFL teams have.

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The rookies drafted by the NFL in April will try to make up for lost time this week.

In the past, many rookies have spent May at their team headquarters working out and studying the playbook to get a jump on training camp.

This year, they were banned from the complexes, except for a weekend minicamp, until June 1.

The idea was to encourage the players to stay in school, because colleges are getting flak for their low graduation rates for football players. The only problem is that many of them already had dropped out of school.

The New England Patriots -- who could well be moving in a couple of years -- aren't having an easy time selling tickets, even though they brought in a new chief executive, Sam Jankovich, and a new head coach, Dick MacPherson.

They have sold fewer than 18,000 season tickets and have put together an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at matching last year's figure of 22,000.

Meanwhile, Lisa Olson, the Boston Herald reporter who was BTC sexually harassed by several players last year and is suing the team, is going to Australia to work on a newspaper there.

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