Legislature calls NFL audible

April 10, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

Organizers of Baltimore's bid to secure an NFL team say they have not offered state money to pay the legal or relocation expenses of a franchise moving here, despite worries in Annapolis that such a deal may be in the offing.

Maryland lawmakers, responding to requests from supporters of Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, amended the state budget last week to restrict the Maryland Stadium Authority from using its funds for anything other than the Camden Yards baseball stadium or to plan and design a football stadium there.

The Redskins are concerned that in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's zeal to bring an NFL team back to Baltimore, the stadium authority might use its money for nonconstruction incentives or legal assistance, or could even spend money to frustrate efforts by the Redskins to move the team to Laurel.

Legislative leaders now must be notified 45 days in advance before such spending occurs. They will be able to review and comment, but will not have veto authority. Supporters of the provision, however, insisted the stadium authority would not spend money for such purposes if it was clear that legislative leaders disapproved.

"I have had absolutely no discussion with any team where there has been any discussion of paying legal bills, paying for indemnification or leases. It's a nonissue," said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the stadium authority.

He said the state would not pay to buy out a lease of a relocating franchise, but may participate in the legal fight and said so during budget hearings several weeks ago. Some attorneys have offered to take the case in exchange for a fee only if victorious, he said.

"If we feel that steps are being taken by the league or an individual franchise and we are advised that they are in violation of antitrust law, then we are obligated to pursue our rights," Belgrad said.

He said he would have consulted with legislative leaders in advance even without the budget restriction.

Cooke plans to build a stadium in Laurel, and has said he does not think the region can support two teams. This has led to speculation that a team wanting to move to Baltimore may have to fight Cooke or the league in court.

State officials and private investors have been in contact with at least three teams interested in moving to Baltimore: the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Some may have to buy out their leases before moving, leading to speculation that state money collected for stadium construction could be used.

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg has asked the attorney general's office whether it would be legal for the stadium authority to use the money it raises from special lotteries to buy out a team's lease or pay its legal expenses.

Steinberg, a Democratic candidate for governor, asserted that it would be illegal and immoral to use stadium authority revenue "to further enrich private interests."

Peter Angelos, who heads an investment group seeking a football team, said no offer of state assistance has been part of the bids he has made to team owners.

"We don't have any commitment from any outside sources," Angelos said.

Meanwhile, sources familiar with the football bid said they expected negotiations with the Rams to pick up in pace after tomorrow's adjournment of the General Assembly, when the threat of anti-stadium legislation will pass.

Several sources described Angelos as increasingly optimistic about his talks with the Rams, in which he is offering to purchase a minority share of the team. The team recently was evicted from its longtime training center when negotiations collapsed over demands that the Rams renovate the building for other uses if they moved.

The team has told officials in Anaheim that it intends to invoke its 15-month notice to move next month.

Angelos declined to comment on his talks, other than to say, "There is movement and things are happening."

K? Sun staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

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