Making reservations for Phoenix and exercising walking-around visitation rights to the National Football League's mid-March convention, where potential expansion franchises and their would-be owners attempt to gain favor, is being discouraged. They'll have access to the hotel halls but that's about all.
The cut list of surviving applicants is going to be minuscule -- with only two or three cities of the 10 in the race receiving early rejection slips. Final word on selection of the winners will be made in October, so the 28 club owners next month will be hearing an overall report on the expansion topic. An updating of sorts. Nothing more.
It was anticipated at least half of the cities bidding for acceptance would be told they lacked the qualifications. But now only Raleigh/Durham and Nashville are expected to be eliminated, with an outside chance of either Sacramento or San Antonio hearing the same.
There is some sentiment for keeping the latter two in the crowded race that also includes Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Oakland, Memphis and Jacksonville. The league has put out a directive telling cities and ownership groups that no formal expansion presentations will be made at the meeting and, in a way, informing them it's not necessary to be there.
Hospitality suites also must not be staffed by any of the expansion suitors. It has been commissioner Paul Tagliabue's belief, although a prime mover to have the league expand, that establishing entertainment venues wasn't necessary. And he's right. He doesn't want 10 cities playing "can you top this?".
Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, has been apprised of the league's limited ground rules for the gathering. "We still anticipate being in Phoenix," he said. "Each city is only going to be permitted two representatives and the ownership groups the same, just two. I expect all three of our ownership groups to be there but, of course, there will not be opportunities for any of them to attend any of the league meetings."
So this makes it almost strictly a public relations undertaking: Being seen at receptions, meeting NFL acquaintances in the halls, greetings in the lobby, around the swimming pool, on golf courses, tennis courts and in the workout rooms. Baltimore will be restricted to one member of the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Greater Baltimore Committee, plus two from the Malcolm Glazer, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Tom Clancy ownership contingents.
It's clear from how the NFL is reacting that the roles of the competing cities will not be as vocal as in the past. If they become overly aggressive or create a personality problem with the owners, there's the chance they'll damage their own cause or the city they represent.
The Phoenix session seems to be one of being seen but not heard -- unless an NFL official or team executive initiates the expansion topic. "The NFL has tried to be sensitive to all the cities," says Belgrad. "I was proud of the way the Baltimore groups conducted themselves in New York in early December and I'm confident it will be the same again."
All contenders have presented preliminary resumes, as requested, and the various ownerships were invited to one interview. So obviously, the league will continue its investigation and background checks on potential ownerships.
Asked if any bothersome information has come to light on any of the 10 cities' ownerships, Roger Goodell, a spokesman for the league, answered, "No negatives have been heard on anyone." He also said he didn't expect any wholesale reduction in the number of cities interested in obtaining new franchises but it could be only "two or three" at this time.
"We have not told the cities or the ownership groups not to come," Goodell explained. "They can still be at the meetings, but we are instructing them not to plan formal presentations or to reserve hospitality rooms. We are concentrating on a business-like approach."
This would mean at this point the league and its expansion committee want to dwell on the written information each city has put forth. While not wanting to be arbitrary, the NFL obviously doesn't want to feel pressure at its own meeting from the applicants. That could become chaotic.
The cities knocking on the NFL door for attention must, by official request, maintain a subdued mode. Aggressive lobbying could be self-defeating.