Baltimore's chances of landing the St. Louis Cardinals football franchise appeared to suffer a blow yesterday when it was reported the team's owner apparently is preparing to announce Thursday he will move his team to Phoenix.

The Boston Globe, describing its sources as "solid," reported that if Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill gains approval from the league, his team will play at Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium next fall, with the option of eventually moving into a proposed domed stadium in downtown Phoenix.

The move to Arizona would have to be approved by 21 of the NFL's 28 owners at their meeting in March.

Herb Belgrad, the Maryland Stadium Authority chairman who for the previous two months had exuded optimism the Cardinals would move to Baltimore next season, conceded yesterday he is no longer confident about that possibility.

Belgrad's reassessment came after the Cardinals negotiated with Phoenix authorities for four days this week, including two with owner Bill Bidwill in attendance, about moving the NFL franchise to the Arizona city next season.

Bidwill left Phoenix to meet with Missouri officials yesterday, saying he has not made up his mind on whether he will move the franchise that has been in his family for 52 years, and, if so, where.

"He's being his usual noncommittal self," Belgrad said. "On the other hand, I'm a realist. He was in Phoenix for two days and still has a lawyer there. We've been waiting since Thanksgiving to negotiate.

"You've got to read something into those facts. As I evaluated today, there's no reason to have that optimism. I have no reason to think he's closed the book on Baltimore, but I can't ignore what's going on in Phoenix."

Tom Guilfoil, Bidwill's attorney and close friend, said the Cardinals' owner will spend the weekend watching playoff games on television and weighing his decision. Guilfoil said neither he nor Bidwill has plans to meet with Baltimore officials early next week.

"I expect he will make a determination before the 15th {NFL deadline for seeking league approval to relocate a franchise}," Guilfoil said. "If he has made up his mind, he has not communicated it to me. I can say with authority that he has not made a commitment."

Of yesterday's meeting with Missouri and St. Louis area officials, Guilfoil said only: "We appreciate their interest."

A source in the county government told the Associated Press that Bidwill was given a written proposal to build a 70,000-seat downtown St. Louis stadium with a rubber-like roof stretched over steel supports. The source said the meeting also served to show the NFL the unity of effort in St. Louis, should the city wind up seeking an expansion team.

Belgrad emphasized the main reason he no longer is optimistic is the talks in Phoenix, characterized by the Baltimore attorney as the first intense negotiations with representatives of either Phoenix, Baltimore or Jacksonville -- the three main contenders if Bidwill decides to move.

"He can't make a decision in any city without at least preliminary discussions," Belgrad said. "I met with Bidwill as late as Monday. We talked about substantial issues, but those are not negotiations like those going on in Phoenix."

Sources said that at the Monday meeting with Belgrad, Bidwill was assured that if he moved the Cardinals to Baltimore the state would be able to build a domed stadium for the team in Camden yards -- apparently with private financing. So, the sources indicated, Bidwill did not go to Phoenix the next day because of a snag in Baltimore.

Guilfoil downplayed the significance of the days spent in Phoenix this week, and the number of lawyers present, because of what he said were the complications involved in dealing with a state school.

"In Baltimore, you're dealing with a stadium authority," Guilfoil said. "It has no other function. You could sit down with an attorney from the stadium authority and probably rough out on a dinner napkin what a lease would look like. With a public university, you run into all kinds of problems and inhibitions and legal problems."

Guilfoil cited as an example a lease prepared for the move of the defunct Arizona Outlaws USFL season from spring to fall. The proposed lease, actually called a licensing agreement, prohibited games from being played when college classes were in session. Thus, it would have been impossible to play home games on Monday night.

"Sight unseen," Guilfoil said, "if Phoenix had a stadium authority and Baltimore's proposal is to occupy the University of Maryland's stadium, you'd probably have some kind of difficulties and spend more time in Maryland."