Schaefer says he 'was conned' by NFL process

December 02, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer Staff writers Frank Langfitt and David Michael Ettlin contributed to this article.

The day after Baltimore's bid for a National Football League expansion franchise was rejected by league owners, Gov. William Donald Schaefer said, "I was conned yesterday like I've never been conned before."

The governor was referring to the role NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his staff played in steering the owners to award the league's 30th team to Jacksonville, Fla., over Baltimore.

Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, who cast one of the two votes for Baltimore on the combined Expansion and Finance committees, said yesterday that he was "in a state of shock" Baltimore was rejected and said the commissioner favored Jacksonville.

"The staff felt strongly about Jacksonville. The commissioner felt strongly about Jacksonville," Braman said. "I think they were honest in their conclusions. I don't think there were any ulterior motives. I just don't agree with them.

"Baltimore is a mecca of urban renaissance in the United States. Even Mayor [Ed] Rendell [of Philadelphia] was shocked when I spoke to him yesterday."

After Tuesday's NFL announcement, Schaefer had said: "I learned a long time ago that, when you are as unhappy and angry as I am, to wait 24 hours before you say anything."

Yesterday, the governor spoke about the football decision before the state Board of Public Works in Annapolis. "If you think back . . . time after time, we got indications that Baltimore was never in the running, because every time we worked with the rules, they found something else for us to do," Schaefer said in an apparent reference to the NFL exhibition game in August 1992 at Memorial Stadium and to the premium-seat ticket sales campaign.

"Herbie Belgrad [chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority] played it by the rules, and we found out there were two sets, one for Baltimore and one for the others. Jacksonville had dropped out. Thrown in the sponge some weeks ago. They were resurrected.

"I just wish they'd been honest with us and said early in the game, 'You're not in.' We should have been eliminated with the others [when candidates were cut from 11 to five in 1992] rather than for us to really work awfully hard and for me to make decisions that were tough for me to make and lose friends over it. You just wonder what the game is all about."

Schaefer was referring to his endorsement of Alfred Lerner, a minority owner of the Cleveland Browns, over two bidders for the Baltimore franchise, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer. There had been indications that Weinglass and Glazer weren't winning favor with the league.

It turned out endorsing Lerner made no difference. Even Art Modell, the majority owner of the Browns, voted against Baltimore.

"How Modell could vote against us is beyond me," the governor said later yesterday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a Baltimore diabetes education center.

Braman said the numbers the NFL staff presented to the owners Tuesday didn't support their conclusion that Jacksonville should be selected over Baltimore.

"I tried to point out the numbers didn't support Jacksonville; they supported Baltimore. The stats were so misleading," he said.

He said the league stressed the potential percentage of growth rate in Jacksonville, but overlooked that Jacksonville is much smaller than Baltimore. Jacksonville's metro population is 943,500; Baltimore's is 2.43 million.

"The growth rate they used doesn't mean anything. You can go from two to four and it's an increase of 100 percent, but it's only an increase of two. If you go from 15 to 20, it's an increase of five, but a smaller percentage. In real numbers, it's a joke," Braman said.

Braman said a crucial factor was the commissioner's refusal to let the owners on the committee visit the various cities.

Belgrad said he wrote Tagliabue asking that the owners visit the various cities, and Braman said he now regrets he didn't push the issue. Although baseball owners visited the various contenders before expanding, Tagliabue rejected that approach on the grounds it turned the process into a circus.

Braman said: "I've been to Baltimore so many times. I've been to Jacksonville, and I don't want to knock Jacksonville. . . . But all one has to do is visit Jacksonville and visit Baltimore and you get a feel for what this thing is all about. It's a shame that never occurred. I think Baltimore is a more qualified city to be in the NFL."

Braman said if the owners had visited the cities, "they would have seen that Baltimore is not part of the greater Washington area. It's a distinct area."

Belgrad also said, for the first time, that Tagliabue never wanted to put a team in Baltimore.

"What this proved is that the commissioner had absolute control of the process from the beginning, including putting together the committees. I believed in the process. I supported the process. In the end, there was no process," he said.

"What emerges clearly is that the owners have deferred to the commissioner through a process by which all kinds of standards and tests are set without regard to the time, effort and cost involved and in the long run, it doesn't matter, because it's what the commissioner wants," he said.

"They picked it [Jacksonville] because the commissioner said to. They don't know the first thing about Jacksonville. Nobody seems concerned that the standards of the financial package, market history and traditional demographics don't seem to support that choice.

"To have Jacksonville selected and Baltimore rejected was the ultimate insult."

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