If Lewis cleared, no NFL action?

Tagliabue indicates suspension unlikely if Raven acquitted


May 25, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue indicated yesterday that he will take no action against Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis if he's acquitted on murder charges in Atlanta.

When Tagliabue was asked at the end of the annual two-day May NFL owners meeting here yesterday if Lewis could be suspended even if he's acquitted, Tagliabue said it wasn't the right time for him to comment because the matter was before a jury.

He was later asked if he could envision a scenario in which any player not convicted of a crime could be suspended for off-the-field behavior.

"It's a little hard to envision that, but I can't think of every conceivable scenario," he said.

That means Lewis should be able to play this fall for the Ravens if he's acquitted.

Tagliabue, who suspended three players for two games earlier this year for off-the-field conduct, indicated suspensions will continue for players who are convicted of crimes.

He said the league wanted to make it clear that players understand "they can forfeit their right to play" for misconduct.

Tagliabue said he felt the issue of player conduct has to be addressed at the club level.

He added, "We have to be smart and we have to be street smart, but we shouldn't overreact. We have good policies in place."

The owners spent a lot of time discussing scheduling concepts for Houston's entry into the league in 2002 as the 32nd team, although they didn't come to any decisions.

One of the debates is about whether to increase the number of playoff teams from 12 to 14. A majority seem to favor that idea, and one team, Kansas City, even favored going to 16.

But there's a faction of owners who argue that the number of playoff teams shouldn't be increased.

Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said, "I think 12 is enough. We've got to keep the sanctity of our game. Every game we play is so important. If you win your division, you've done something. You don't need to load it up with wild cards."

Another subject that will be debated will be whether to seed playoff teams by records, so that a wild- card team could be seeded above a division winner for the purposes of home-field advantage.

If the league seeds the teams in each conference, only the top seed would receive a bye the first weekend.

In another development at the meetings, Tagliabue appointed a committee of four owners to survey all the teams on how to improve the operation of the league.

The committee will consist of conference presidents Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, plus Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills and Al Lerner of the Cleveland Browns.

Wilson has called for the league to hire an outside consultant to poll the clubs, but agreed as a compromise to join a committee of owners to do the same thing.

The committee is scheduled to prepare a report by October.

Several owners have been complaining about the lack of communication they get from the league.

"I feel that way, too," Hunt said. "I think you always need to have evaluations. I look forward to it. Hopefully, it can be productive. I think the No.1 thing is that it's designed to help to find a way to communicate better with the league. I think it's a good idea."

Wilson said: "The mandate of this committee is to go forward and find out from each owner anything they think is a positive or a negative and bring it back to the league in October.

"Some of the owners feel they don't know what's going on. Things are done and they read about it in your column. It'll bring all of the owners into the mix. It'll give all the owners a better feeling that they're a part of this league." Wilson said.

Tagliabue didn't agree with the notion that he's not communicating with the owners.

"I don't think that's a very widely shared point of view, but if any owners feel that way, it's something we should respond to. The information flow is so massive that there's a lack of comprehension, not a lack of flow of information," he said.

But since there were so many complaints, Tagliabue felt he had to address them.

The league also continues to study contract violations. Tagliabue also announced that the Denver Broncos will be penalized because they didn't adequately fund some deferred-money contracts, but no decision has been reached yet on allegations against the San Francisco 49ers that they violated salary-cap provisions.

Tagliabue also defended controversial Washington owner Daniel Snyder, who announced Tuesday the Redskins will charge $10 for each person older than 12 attending training-camp practices at the team's facility in Ashburn, Va., plus $10 for parking.

The Redskins are the first team to charge to watch training-camp practices and the $10 charge will be $1 more than the Orioles charge for bleacher seats.

"Dan Snyder has done an extremely good job," Tagliabue said.

The league held a reception Tuesday night at PSINet Stadium, and the new stadium got good reviews from the owners.

Hunt, who was here with the Chiefs for a Thursday night game last fall, said the setting was even more impressive during the day.

"The stadium is a smash, wonderful. We played there last fall, but when I got to the stadium it was dark and we left in the dark. I didn't appreciate the feel in relationship to the city and the community. It's really special," Hunt said.


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