Expansion unlikely soon, governor says

July 19, 1995|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

After a meeting with top NFL officials, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he does not believe the league will expand any time soon and that he will decide in December whether to keep stadium funding in place to try to lure one of several teams the league thinks might move.

Glendening met Thursday with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and said he told the commissioner he thought Baltimore had been used as leverage by teams seeking new stadiums and that the city would not "be brides in waiting forever."

He said Tagliabue neither encouraged nor discouraged Maryland to keep its funding in place, and was candid in relating the strengths of Baltimore's football market as well as its geographic shortcomings relative to faster-growing regions of the country.

"They did not think there would be expansion soon but did believe several teams would look around. . . . Without any hesitation he said he thought there would be several additional moves," Glendening said.

The commissioner was less encouraging about the prospects of another expansion any time soon. Baltimore's NFL boosters, having failed to land several prospects in recent years, are hoping the league adds an expansion team in Los Angeles and, to keep the number of teams even, another one elsewhere.

"They understood that we would not be brides in waiting forever," Glendening said.

Glendening and Mercantile Safe Deposit & Trust chairman H. Furlong Baldwin had breakfast with Tagliabue and New York Giants owner Robert Tisch in a Washington hotel owned by Loews Corp. Tisch, chairman of Loews Corp., once led an investment group seeking an expansion team for Baltimore and has been supportive of the city's efforts.

Said Glendening, "I think we established a professional line of communication and got rid of some of the hostility that was still lying around. I was encouraged at least that we cleared the air."

Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer was outspoken in his criticism of the league and commissioner following Baltimore's loss in expansion. Schaefer accused Tagliabue of conspiring with Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to keep a team out of Baltimore, something both men denied.

"The idea that there is hostility between the State of Maryland and the NFL is now gone," Glendening said.

A spokesman for the commissioner confirmed the meeting was held but declined to discuss the substance of the talks.

Glendening said Tagliabue asked about the Redskins' plans to build a stadium in Prince George's County, and the governor said he told him he has left that up to local authorities to approve or disapprove. Tagliabue said he did not know of any team owner who viewed the Redskins' plans as a negative for Baltimore getting a team, Glendening said.

"My impression is as long as we're not talking about expansion that the decision would be left up to an individual owner, and the league is not going to do anything to stop it," Glendening said.

Tagliabue did not bring up suggestions by Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag that the state might sue the league, accusing it of unlawfully keeping a team out of Baltimore. But Glendening said he does not favor such a suit and considers it to be "very much on the back burner."

"I understand that while there may be some legal issues, I thought it was more appropriate to work with them," Glendening said.

Revoking the bonding authorization for a football stadium adjacent to Oriole Park would require approval by the General Assembly and the signature of the governor. Some accumulated lottery money is scheduled to be redirected next spring to school construction if no team has announced its intention of moving.

Sen. John Pica, chairman of the city's state Senate delegation, has vowed to filibuster if necessary to retain the funding.

"We are faced with other pressing needs, as well as federal cutbacks," said Glendening. "I told him [Tagliabue] if anything was going to happen I had to have a clear picture by December.

"If there was some reasonable indication of something in the near future, we would keep the option open and if not, I have to make a hard budget decision," Glendening said he told Tagliabue.

Glendening said even if the funding is revoked, it could be reinstated if a team were interested in moving to Baltimore -- something that would require new legislative approval.

Tisch said he liked the governor personally, but did not have any advice on whether to keep the stadium funding in place.

"With L.A. open, the league has to sit down and decide a strategy for the next few years. As a general principle we're trying to stabilize the league," Tisch said. "Right now, everything is more up in the air than usual."

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