Four new NFL teams would be twice as nice

December 16, 1991|By John Steadman

Including four -- not two -- cities in the National Football League expansion process would be the equitable and justifiable way to proceed. And it would win enormous approval. There are three standouts, Baltimore, Charlotte and St. Louis, with Memphis and Oakland contending. Why not pick four? There would be fewer broken hearts, less disappointment and, in the end, more money for those doing the approving.

Score such an action as a grand slam for the NFL and commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The league would be helped financially, politically and have its prestige enhanced. A broader base of public interest also would evolve if four are anointed instead of two.

At this time, the plan is predicated on two but that doesn't make it right because the NFL's popularity is such it could easily handle four, two coming in 1994 and two more in 1996.

If the NFL doesn't open the door to four it leaves the possibility of another league forming. And if only two are picked from the list of 10 cities then there's going to be a deep and bitter disappointment among the rejected candidates.

The only factors that would seemingly alter the game plan and go to four would be if a national reaction moved congressional members to turn it into some kind of a federal case. Various cities and states don't want to exert that kind of pressure at this stage of the game, figuring it would hurt, rather than help, their cause. That's easy to understand.

TC At this still early juncture, the expansion and realignment committee doesn't show any indications it will offer a wider opening in the window of expansion. But, it could happen, no matter how reluctant, if they find the job of deciding between Baltimore, Charlotte and St. Louis an insurmountable task.

And don't forget Memphis and Oakland. In 1976, when the NFL last expanded, taking in Tampa Bay and Seattle, it gave a promise in writing that when expansion came into focus the next time that Memphis and Birmingham would be given first consideration.

But the playing field has changed. Back then, Baltimore, St. Louis and Oakland were still in the NFL. Waiting on the sidelines? Phoenix and Indianapolis. But they were taken care of -- St. Louis losing the Cardinals to Phoenix in a vote of the owners and Baltimore robbed of the Colts without any vote or voice of the owners except the arbitrary action of Robert Irsay.

Charlotte, with a concept it can represent both North and South Carolina, was not a factor the last time expansion happened. But that was 15 years ago -- almost an eternity in sports. The NFL would resent being equated to it, but the National Basketball Association demonstrated the precise hypothesis we're offering.

The NBA, like the NFL, was pointing for two new members but it made a surprise announcement. It admitted the decision was so difficult it couldn't separate the applicants and feel fair about it. So, rather than two, it went for four -- which meant pleasure was experienced in four places, Miami, Charlotte, Minneapolis and Orlando.

Tagliabue, not wanting to create false hope, has said there will be two cities, not four, coming into the league for the 1994 kickoff. But, considering how long the wait has been between expansion action, the two-city concept doesn't fill the intense, almost passionate, demand for franchises. The public should be satisfied; not denied.

If that happens, there will be charges the league wants to keep cities "on hold," in reserve, so it can up the entrance fee in the future and keep the bidding alive.

"I know this waiting has been a problem for all the cities," said Pepper Rogers, who represents the Memphis group. "Ask any applicant and it will tell you about the trauma. Our city of Memphis can not do any more. We put on seven exhibition games but even when they sell out they don't get you in the league with a team of your own."

The expansion resolution adopted at the league meeting in Minneapolis last May 22 calls only for the following: "That the member clubs agree to add two additional teams, resulting in six divisions of five teams each . . . "

That could probably be amended if pressure was applied by high government officials. But rather than having that happen, the league should take it upon itself, without outside influence, to care for the cities with credentials that believe so much in the NFL they will pay almost any price to be admitted. Four not two.

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