Is it finally time to set the expansion watch?


January 31, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA — PASADENA, Calif. -- This time, it may not be a false alarm.

When commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Friday that the NFL will name two expansion teams in October to play in 1995, it had the look of the real thing.

L Of course, Tagliabue has been overly optimistic in the past.

In the spring of 1990, he said in a conference call that the league would expand "possibly by 1992, certainly by 1993."

It didn't reach that target, and then in May 1991, the league passed a resolution calling for the naming of two teams in the fall of 1992 to play in 1994.

There was one proviso. If labor problems became an "impediment," expansion could be delayed.

Sure enough, it was a problem. At least it was in the league's eyes when it didn't reach a settlement with the players and the target was delayed.

This time, Tagliabue didn't add any ifs, ands or buts to the declaration now that a settlement has been reached with the players.

He still has to get 21 owners to agree in March to go ahead with expansion, and there are some who are bound to quibble that they should get the next television contract sorted out first.

But the odds are that Tagliabue will get the owners to go along with him this time.

He also has a carrot to offer. According to the settlement with the players, the expansion fees won't be counted in the designated gross revenue the way the TV money is.

That means the owners get to put all of the expansion money in their own pocket instead of giving 60 percent of it to the players the way they do with the TV money.

That will offset the sting of having to split the TV money 30 ways instead of 28 ways in the future.

In any case, the timing couldn't be better for Baltimore.

The selection of the teams will come a little more than three months after the baseball All-Star Game will give Baltimore a national showcase for Camden Yards.

When they show the blimp shot of the new stadium during the game,Baltimore officials are sure to suggest to them that they can point out where the new football stadium will be built with public funding if Baltimore gets a team.

Nothing is guaranteed when the 28 NFL owners start voting, but it would seem to be difficult for any other city to top that blimp shot.

The TV battle

The saber-rattling has started between the TV networks and the NFL over the next contract.

Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC Sports, said last week that the networks are going to lose $200 million on the NFL in 1993.

Last year, the networks negotiated a rebate for 1993 in exchange for a two-year extension with Art Modell, the Cleveland Browns owner who heads the TV committee. Tagliabue, though, couldn't get 21 owners to support the proposal.

"If we don't think we can make a profit in our next NFL arrangement, we won't be in it," Ebersole said. "We can't subsidize another business. We're not a charity."

When NBC officials said similar things a year ago, Tagliabue brushed it off as a negotiating ploy.

"The networks in this context are fairly skilled in stating their positions privately and publicly," he said.

At his news conference Friday, Tagliabue took a much more subdued tone. He simply said the NFL would try to work things out with the network.

The NFL still gets high ratings, but because of the recession, the networks can't charge enough for their ads to overcome the huge rights fees.

The $3.65 billion contract signed in 1990 called for each team to get an average of $32 million a year, but it goes up to more than $40 million in 1993.

It's hard to believe NBC would walk away from the NFL, but the network may not be bluffing.

The network's revenue figures to go down in 1994. The question is just how much it's going to go down.

Is replay dead?

Today may be the last chance for instant replay to be revived in 1993.

Unless there's a controversial call in the Super Bowl that has a huge effect on the game, there won't be much sentiment to revive it.

The death knell was sounded at Tagliabue's Friday news conference when he announced he won't recommend bringing it back.

Instant replay died last year when only 17 owners voted for it (it needed 21 votes to be saved) even when Tagliabue supported it. Now that he isn't, it appears to have no chance.

It's difficult, though, to judge the impact of a blown call in the Super Bowl. Things that happen in the Super Bowl tend to get magnified.

Unless that happens, instant replay is dead for another season. Nobody really missed it during the regular season.

Tagliabue also mentioned that many teams decided that it gave the defenses an edge when a replay delay interrupted the flow of a drive.

The miss

Scott Norwood remembers the miss. He just doesn't want to talk about.

The former Buffalo place-kicker, who was wide right with a 47-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the Bills' 20-19 loss to the New York Giants two years ago, lost his job when the Bills signed Steve Christie last spring.

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