The Federal Trade Commission, completing a nine-month probe into whether antitrust laws were violated in negotiations for NFL television rights last year, is close to deciding whether to act against the league or other parties.

A determination could come by March 1.

A source close to the investigation said "the recommendation of the attorneys has been made. It's being decided now {by the FTC's bureau of competition} whether to act upon it."

Another source said a decision is due "in three to four weeks."

The FTC began an inquiry last May into the NFL's three-year, $1.4 billion contract with the three networks and ESPN. Investigators centered on whether the league or networks conspired to keep the Monday night package away from the Fox Broadcasting Company. ABC retained the Monday games.

After preliminary questioning, the FTC moved the inquiry into a full investigation and subpoenaed dozens of television and NFL officials to testify. If the federal government finds a violation of antitrust laws, it could void the contracts involved or try to levy other financial punishment.

NFL officials called to Washington included Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, a key member of the league's TV committee, and Val Pinchbeck, director of broadcasting.

Officials who testified included CBS President Laurence Tisch and Capital Cities/ABC President Daniel Burke, as well as the president of each network's sports division -- CBS' Neal Pilson, ABC's Dennis Swanson and NBC's Arthur Watson.

Fox President Jamie Kellner has said repeatedly that Fox outbid ABC for the Monday night package. Modell has said that Fox and ABC -- the carrier of Monday night games since 1970 -- made similar offers but that other factors weighed in ABC's favor.

Fox was offered a package of Sunday night games that eventually was purchased by ESPN, whose majority owner is Capital Cities/ABC. Last October, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) introduced a resolution urging the Justice Department to check the antitrust implications of the NFL going to cable (ESPN) for the first time.