NFL wary of loan for Modell

Giants' Tisch rejects idea

Bills' Wilson: `I don't think it's fair'

June 18, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, likes Ravens owner Art Modell, but he's not sympathetic to the idea of the NFL's waiving the Ravens' $29 million relocation fee or giving Modell a loan to solve his financial problems.

"Art's a great guy and a good friend of mine and I like him very much and everybody wants to see everybody do well, but I don't think it's fair to the other owners [to waive the fee]," Wilson said yesterday. "The owners did everything in the world to help Art to move to Baltimore. We can't keep making exemptions."

On the question of the league's making a loan to Modell, Wilson said: "I've never heard of that, but the league does a lot of things I've never heard of these days."

Wilson's comments are an example of what an uphill fight Modell would face to get the 24 team votes he'd need for a waiver of the relocation fee or a loan from the league.

Modell, who hopes to bring in a minority investor to give the debt-laden club a fresh infusion of cash, has raised the idea of waiving the fee or getting a loan.

In a survey of several owners and top executives yesterday, none endorsed either idea, and one of them, Giants co-owner Bob Tisch, a member of the influential Finance Committee, flatly rejected the loan idea.

"I don't think the league will make a loan to him or anybody else," Tisch said. "The league is not in the business of making loans."

Tisch said the matter hasn't been discussed in the Finance Committee, and most of the owners said they weren't aware of Modell's debt problem until they read reports of it in a football newsletter.

Modell hadn't told any of the executives contacted about his problem, and most owners apparently assumed the move to Baltimore had solved his financial situation.

Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown said of Modell's proposals: "I can't talk to this publicly. You can guess how I feel."

Brown isn't an ally of Modell's because Modell fired his father, the late Paul Brown, as Cleveland Browns coach after the 1961 season.

John Shaw, president of the St. Louis Rams, said: "Art's a friend of mine and I hope his problems are resolved, but I have no comment, absolutely no comment."

But Shaw isn't likely to favor either idea, because the Rams were assessed $46 million by the league when they moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995. The city of St. Louis even filed a suit against the league in an effort to overturn the assessment, but lost in court.

Shaw said the Rams paid $20 million up front and are paying another $26 million in installments of $1.73 million a year for 15 years.

When Shaw was asked if he was surprised the Ravens couldn't generate enough revenue with their lucrative stadium deal to pay down their debt, he said: "Cash flow is not necessarily the same as profitability. If [their debt service] is $20 million, that's a significant amount of their cash flow and profitability."

Several owners said they'd be willing to listen to Modell's pitch before making a decision.

Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt said: "I'd like to hear about what the reasons would be. I was really surprised to read about it. I'd want to hear from Art or whomever they're going to present."

Steelers owner Dan Rooney, Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan and Joel Glazer, whose family attempted to get an expansion team for Baltimore before buying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also said they wouldn't comment until hearing more about the Ravens' situation.

Chuck Schmidt, chief operating officer of the Detroit Lions, said: "I'm sure the league is going to take this particular situation and see if they can be of some help."

Wellington Mara, co-owner of the Giants and a close friend of Modell's, said he would be influenced by the recommendation of the Finance Committee on the issue of giving aid to Modell.

"I would be inclined to follow whatever recommendation they make," Mara said. "I've agreed with their decisions in the past, but I'll make my own evaluation. He's a good friend of mine and a vital member of our league, and I'd like the league to give him whatever assistance he needs."

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