In a new game of political football that will decide what, if anything, Congress will do to help professional sports leagues control the location of their franchises, there appears to be a tenuous draw.
Yesterday, two senators -- Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Arlen Spector (R-Pa.) -- told NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who was testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on two professional sports antitrust immunity bills, that they found it hard to believe what he was saying.
Then, Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), whose bill is supported by Rozelle, charged that the NFL, by expressing concern over expansion while litigation is pending, "seems to be asking (Congress) to put (the bills) on hold."
Meanwhile, on the other sideline, USFL Commissioner Harry Usher chastised DeConcini, who admits he is very interested in finding an NFL team for Phoenix.
"I am not sure whether Sen. DeConcini knows that the USFL is in Phoenix," Usher said. "I didn't see any indication . . . There is a heck of a team there, employing a lot of players, leasing a stadium, employing a lot of other people."
DeConcini had slipped out a side door and was not present during Usher's remarks.
During his second appearance at a Senate hearing in a month, Rozelle said he supported the bills of DeConcini and Sens. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.) and John Danforth (R-Mo.), which, respectively, seek to deter franchise moves and want to grant pro football and other sports a limited antitrust exemption. Under current antitrust law, the restriction of team relocation is considered a limitation on free trade, but the issue remains under appeal in the courts.
The issue of pooling TV revenues, which the NFL does and major league baseball does not, caused several heated discussions. Spector said he found it "hard to believe" that the Philadelphia Eagles' portion of the league TV revenues ($16 million goes to each team, Rozelle said) could be greater than the amount the team could receive on its own, as Rozelle said.
"It's a totality, the whole league package," Rozelle said.
"I'd like to see an analysis, dollars and cents," Spector said.
Later, Rozelle said there was "no way we could have a competitive league if we did not share income."
Biden: "It seems as though there is healthy competition on the diamond in baseball and they don't have the situation you have. Doesn't that go against your argument for the need to share the receipts?"
Rozelle, who said the NFL will expand by two teams "when we have been assured legally that we can pick the owners and pick the locations and (be certain) the teams will stay there," said past and present lawsuits act as a deterrent to expansion. All the cities that are leading candidates for NFL expansion have USFL teams, Rozelle said.
Biden, unconvinced, asked if the reason there has been no NFL expansion since 1976 wasn't because "the owners feel their piece of the pie will get cut."
Rozelle: "The answer is no. The answer is the litigation we've had for five to seven years and the pending (USFL) litigation right now."
"I don't believe you," Biden said. However, he added quickly, "I might point out to you that I don't know much about this."