Don't move money with NFL closing in

January 07, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

There is a chance that the Los Angeles Rams will decide to become the Baltimore Rams this year. Maybe not a great chance, but a chance nonetheless. The Rams could sextuple their operating profit by moving here, according to one set of figures. You can bet that's got their attention.

There also is a chance -- maybe an even slimmer one, but again, a chance -- that the New England Patriots will become the Baltimore Patriots. The NFL doesn't want the team to move, but, as the courts have demonstrated, the league's desires don't mean diddly. And a Baltimore group was one of several that presented sealed bids to James Busch Orthwein.

So, what are the chances of either possibility resulting in the return of pro football to Baltimore? Who knows? But one thing is clear: It's not just a pipe dream, particularly in the case of the Rams. Their moving is a possibility based on a foundation of fact. Baltimore's financial package is superior, substantial, tempting.

It could happen, hon.

But not if the state Legislature revokes the funding for the stadium.

That could happen, too, hon. The Legislature has given the Maryland Stadium Authority until the middle of February to demonstrate that a team is genuinely interested in moving to Baltimore. If it isn't satisfied, the legislature could revoke the funding with the support of three-fifths of the body, the amount needed to override the governor's inevitable veto.

Talk about killing off the dream once and for all. If we don't have a stadium, we have as much chance as Hagerstown.

Hopefully, it won't come to that. The Legislature has no business determining if a franchise is serious about moving. What does it know about the curious politics and machinations of the NFL? Nothing. That was proven by the setting of this arbitrary deadline. You can't rush an NFL owner considering such an important call. Yet the deadline is just six weeks after the end of the season. It'll take longer than that for an owner to decide to move.

Of course, the Legislature didn't say it needed a firm commitment; just, as one delegate said, "something approaching a firm commitment." Great. Beautiful. What does that mean? What do they want, a note from Georgia Frontiere's doctor?

Listen, there's already enough evidence of interest to warrant keeping this thing alive. The Rams have invoked the escape clause in their Anaheim lease. They're free agents. They've said they'll weigh their alternatives. They're on record as saying that Baltimore is one of them. To pull the stadium funding at such a point, when Baltimore is very much a viable alternative, would be ridiculous.

Maybe it's true that the Rams are using us as leverage to get a better deal at home. But that's just the way the world works: When a business enterprise such as the Rams makes a decision, it's going to play its options off each other and try to arrange the best deal. That doesn't mean you don't have a chance. You just have to hope your bid is better. At this point, Baltimore's is.

Besides, it's not as if we're talking about keeping the funding in place forever and holding onto some foolish, no-hope dream. The Rams have to make their decision by May or wait until 1996 to move. They don't want to wait. They'll decide by May.

The Legislature should keep the stadium funding in place until May. If no deal is struck by then, bye-bye funding. You can't hang on forever, not when there are so many other uses for the money. You have to pick a time to say enough is enough.

May would be the appropriate time.

Not mid-February.

Of course, some members of the legislature, particularly those from Montgomery County and Prince George's County, already have pretty much decided that the funding should go now, that there's no need for the taxpayers to build Baltimore a stadium when Jack Kent Cooke is willing to build one himself in Laurel.

This, they say, would fulfill the original mission of getting Maryland a team.

Wrong.

The original mission was to get Baltimore a team. You will notice that the Legislature didn't approve funding for a stadium in, say, Cumberland. And putting the Redskins in Laurel wouldn't begin to satisfy Baltimore's thirst for football. Baltimore will never embrace the Redskins.

Everyone is sick of the whole issue. We can agree on that, right? The expansion process was no less than sickening. No one should believe that the Rams or Patriots are coming until the opening kickoff of their first game here.

But we have to muddle on. Yes, we do. It's only right that our football bid, having come this far, is allowed to play itself out. You never thought Jacksonville would get a team, did you?

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