Even if Moag has team in hand, some tough decisions lie ahead

October 29, 1995|By John Steadman

If John Moag has a signed document in his back pocket that will bring an NFL team to Baltimore, he's not spreading the good news, but is classifying it top secret and keeping it under the cover of confidentiality -- presumably until the season is over.

It's a case of another lawyer maintaining his own counsel. Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is right in not showing his hand.

Reports have circulated that a deal has been put in writing that will lead to an existing NFL franchise coming to Baltimore. Which team, you ask? Take your pick from among a third of the 30 clubs.

It's believed that Thursday was a pivotal occasion for creating, even completing, an arrangement with an owner interested in relocating. It was significant that Art Modell, a league leader who owns the Cleveland Browns, said he believed something good would soon be happening to Baltimore.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening earlier asked NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to advise him if Baltimore was going to be awarded a franchise. If not, the appropriated money, approaching $200 million, for a new football facility would be used for more humane purposes.

That was a fair request, and the NFL has on its agenda, for a Nov. 7 meeting in Dallas, a question dealing with the issue. But, as Moag further ponders the possibility of rejection and weighs the implications, he may want to ask that the question be reworded or even withdrawn to delay putting the league under the gun.

The league office is going to decide where and when teams are placed. For Baltimore to request a vote might mean a devastating rejection. However, a mandate for a team, similar to what Los Angeles has received to replace the Rams and Raiders, would be a positive move.

That would mean the NFL was on record as committed to favoring Baltimore over other possibilities. So Moag has a vital decision. Does he roll the dice in a shoot-the-works gamble or take a safer, no-risk route, keeping his powder dry and all options open?

The NFL reply could be an exercise in semantics, too, because the league knows it helps its position if it keeps a live one on the hook. Why tell Baltimore no and create further animosity? The announcement, therefore, if it's unfavorable, would be in the form of public relations puffery.

Such speculation becomes moot if Moag has an arrangement that would cancel a franchise transfer if the deal is prematurely publicized.

NFL teams believe it's advantageous to keep Baltimore interested and, even though they won't say so, want the stadium money kept in place. This is a motive predicated on selfishness.

Baltimore offers mighty riches for a football owner. It's a land of opportunity, even if population is declining and poverty abounds. A new stadium awaits, along with a guarantee by the business community to provide sellout crowds for 10 successive years.

There's nothing an NFL owner enjoys more than money. Some, as in St. Louis, Charlotte and other places, are even engaging in a form of extortion by selling a personal seat license at a high price before permitting that same fan to buy a ticket.

The ideal approach for Baltimore is to press for an expansion club when the Los Angeles vacancy is filled in 1997. That way Moag wouldn't be damaging some other city by looting it of its franchise and creating a civic trauma of the kind Baltimore, and now Los Angeles, has had to endure.

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