NFL owners set to meet on expansion timetable Delay likely after antitrust verdict

September 12, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

National Football League owners will discuss the impact of the antitrust verdict on the league's expansion timetable at a meeting in Dallas Thursday, a league spokesman said.

Joe Browne, the league's vice president for communications, said it wouldn't be proper for him to speculate on how the owners will view expansion in light of the jury's verdict that the league's Plan B system violates antitrust laws.

But the expectation is that the verdict will delay the league's plans to name two teams by the end of the year to play in 1994.

"I think expansion is now on the back burner until this issue is resolved," said John Kent Cooke, the Washington Redskins executive vice president and son of owner Jack Kent Cooke.

Wellington Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, made it obvious the owners aren't thinking about expansion in the wake of the verdict.

"It hasn't been on my mind the last 36 hours. I guess the fact that labor relations are still up in the air would mean a delay," Mara said.

Harold Henderson, the league's director of labor relations, said, "I think the issues that will affect expansion are still there. The trial didn't resolve any of those. The combination of the mixed message in this verdict and the certainty of an appeal leave it all unresolved."

When the verdict came, the league was still moving ahead on the expansion front. League staff members were in Memphis studying that city's bid Thursday when the verdict was announced.

It's likely now that the league will delay expansion and the announcement of any new timetable because nobody is sure what the verdict means to the future of the league.

Even though the jury ruled Plan B illegal, it didn't award damages to four of the eight players and appeared to give the league the green light to have some restrictions. That's why the owners were claiming victory.

Since the owners are so optimistic about what the verdict means to their side, Henderson did hold out a ray of hope about expansion.

"It's conceivable that we'll analyze it and find that it doesn't have a significant impact on expansion," he said.

It's somewhat inconsistent for the owners to say they won and yet say they can't expand because of the verdict, but this group of owners has added only two teams in the past 22 years.

The frustrating thing for Baltimore is that its expansion bid appeared to peak with the enthusiasm over the preseason game and the sellout crowds at Camden Yards.

Cooke virtually endorsed the city's bid yesterday.

"I think that when expansion comes, Baltimore is in the forefront in getting an expansion franchise. I think they've handled themselves beautifully. They have a number of people applying for the franchise and that's always a good sign, and the overall track record and the history of the NFL in Baltimore is superb and it can be that way again. There's no question about it in my mind," Cooke said.

Cooke's words were particularly encouraging because Baltimore's only negative is its geographical location between Philadelphia and Washington. Since Norman Braman, the owner of the Eagles, has been a long-time supporter of Baltimore and now Cooke is boosting the city, that should negate those concerns.

That is meaningless, however, if the league doesn't expand and if labor peace remains elusive.

Both sides must file motions before federal Judge David Doty by Sept. 25 on an injunction, and he will rule on how much freedom the players actually have right now.

Meanwhile, the verdict did nothing to quiet the rhetorical war between the two sides. Gene Upshaw, the head of the NFL Players Association, said he was no longer willing to accept a salary cap, while Browne said the league has taken its offer off the table. "We're starting with a clean slate," he said.

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