Expansion likely stalled as NFL owners huddle New plan for Plan B first item on agenda

September 17, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

The NFL owners are likely to delay the league's expansion timetable for a year when they meet today in Dallas.

In the wake of a ruling by a federal court jury last week that the league's Plan B free-agency restrictions violate antitrust laws, the owners also will get an update from the league's attorneys and begin to make new plans.

The first casualty of the verdict is expected to be the expansion timetable that called for the league to name two expansion teams by the end of the year to begin play in 1994.

Although the owners still hope to reach a collective-bargaining agreement with the players, they're likely to put off expansion while they formulate their strategy. Their first priority will be coming up with a system to replace Plan B.

There's also no guarantee that they can reach a contract agreement soon, because the players appear committed to a battle through the courts.

When federal Judge David Doty dismissed the jury last week, he told them: "Legal matters never cease and maybe never will in this case. With the possibility of appeals, you'll be reading about this [case] as interested observers from now on."

While the NFL is planning an appeal, the players are going ahead with new lawsuits. The first one is an attempt by 10 unsigned players -- including tight end Keith Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles -- to get themselves declared free agents so they can negotiate immediately with any team.

The hearing on that case originally was set for today, but was delayed until Tuesday to give the owners' attorneys a chance to file motions. One of the players, wide receiver Stephone Paige of the Kansas City Chiefs, was released after filing the suit, so there are now nine seeking free agency.

Meanwhile, Jim Quinn, the lead attorney for the players, said the legal action -- including a suit attacking the draft -- will continue until the NFL "is prepared to negotiate a reasonable settlement."

Quinn also said the lawsuits aren't an impediment to expansion. "The expansion issue has nothing to do with the players' issue," he said. Quinn added the players wouldn't attempt legal action to stop the league from stocking expansion teams.

"They don't want to expand anyway," Quinn said. "If Hugh Culverhouse [owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers] stubbed his toe, he'd say he couldn't expand."

While the squabbling between the two sides continues, the five expansion finalists -- Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla. -- can only sit on the sidelines and wait.

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