Owners lack plan to stop team moves

ON THE NFL

March 10, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Clueless in Palm Beach.

That may be the best way to describe the state of the NFL this week when the owners gather in Palm Beach, Fla., for their annual March meetings to deal with the thorny issue of franchise relocation.

Even league officials say they have no game plan for solving the problem as they lurch from one crisis to another.

"We don't have an overall strategy in terms of what's going to be the final results of these shifting franchises," NFL spokesman Joe Browne said in a conference call last week.

"We do have a goal that the teams remain where they are unless the city where they are shows the stadium facility is not up to par," Browne added.

Since all the teams that want to move complain about their zTC stadiums, the moves are likely to continue in what has been dubbed the Nomadic Football League.

First on the agenda are the Houston Oilers, who sent the owners documents six inches high supporting their request to move to Nashville, Tenn.

The owners are expected to approve the move, but that doesn't mean the Oilers will be in Nashville this fall. They have two years left on their lease, and before it lets the Oilers out of the lease, the city of Houston wants the same promise of a new team that Cleveland got. The voters also will get a chance to kill the deal in May if enough signatures for a referendum are verified.

The owners are expected to ratify the Cleveland deal, which finally was approved by the Cleveland City Council on Friday night after it wrung a few concessions out of the league. For example, the new owner of the team will pay rent of $250,000 a year instead of getting the stadium rent-free. The question left unanswered is which team is going to move to Cleveland by 1999.

The owners also will discuss Seattle's move to Los Angeles, but won't vote on it because Seahawks owner Ken Behring hasn't bothered to ask for permission.

Another matter to be discussed is the Tampa Bay situation. The Bucs haven't been able to get a new stadium deal, but will be forced to stay in Tampa at least one more year because it can't find another city willing to build the Bucs a new stadium.

That may be the scariest scenario of all for the NFL. If cities start refusing to build stadiums, teams will have nowhere to move.

Meanwhile, the matter on the agenda that would solve most of the NFL's problems is revenue sharing.

If the owners would share more of their stadium revenue, teams wouldn't be so frantic to get new stadium deals.

Even Art Modell, whose Baltimore deal will make his team one of the NFL's most profitable, says he's in favor of more revenue sharing.

But Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones remains against it, and he has been able to round up seven other owners to block it.

Return of instant replay?

For the first time since instant replay was thrown out after the 1991 season, it has a chance to return on a modified basis.

Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly is leading the charge for either a challenge system similar to what was used in the U.S. Football League or a system in which only scoring, sideline and change-of-possession plays are reviewed.

There's new support for a modified plan because of the finish of the Pittsburgh-Indianapolis AFC title game. If the officials hadn't seen the ball on the ground on the final Jim Harbaugh Hail Mary pass and had given the Colts a game-winning touchdown, there would have been no way to overturn it.

Twenty-six of the 30 coaches now favor the return of some type of system and it takes only 23 teams to bring it back. But some coaches will be overruled by management. For example, Dan Reeves of the New York Giants favors it, but will be overruled by general manager George Young, a longtime opponent and the co-chairman of the competition committee.

A key vote on the competition committee could be Jones. He voted against it when it was thrown out, but could change his mind.

Modell will vote for a modified plan. "I've been pushing it for years," he said.

The name game

From a Baltimore perspective, the key item at the meetings will be Modell's last attempt to buy the Colts nickname from Jim Irsay of Indianapolis.

If Irsay, who has indicated he won't sell the name, says no one more time, Modell then will have to consider the alternatives.

NFL Properties still likes Marauders, which was the name of a plane built in this area, because it thinks it could sell a lot of flight jackets. But that's a long nickname that would be hard to shorten.

The team has drawn up a page of possible train-related names to go with a train logo on the helmet, including Steamers and Railers. But the most intriguing one may be Yardmasters, which would be unique, fit at Camden Yards and could be shortened to "Masters" in headlines. But it may be too different for NFL Properties.

They also have names of train runs on the list, including Diplomat and American, but most people wouldn't associate those names with trains.

Modell's legacy

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