CARLISLE, PA., JULY 26 -- The National Football League's committee on expansion and realignment today announced it would recommend that the league add two teams in 1993 and begin a complete realignment in 1992.
The announcement has been expected for several weeks and contained no surprises. The committee said franchises would have to be awarded late next year or in early 1992 to be ready to play in 1993.
The recommendations have to be approved by a vote of the 28 owners; it's unclear when that might come.
The committee will make a full report on realignment at a meeting of all owners Oct. 16, and a report on expansion at the winter meetings in March. Votes on both issues could come in March.
Baltimore, Memphis, Charlotte and St. Louis are considered expansion front-runners, and officials from those cities and others considered today's announcement to be good news.
The committee didn't put a price tag on the new franchises. The NFL last expanded in 1976 and owners in Seattle and Tampa Bay paid $16 million. It's believed that football will charge about $100 million this time.
"There is a strong interest on the committee in a thorough examination of realignment," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "I restated my personal belief that a two-team expansion in 1993 is a realistic objective for the league to pursue and the committee members shared that belief."
Tagliabue said that in evaluating cities, the expansion committee would focus, not on potential ownership groups, but on the ability of a city to support an NFL team.
"Expansion involves examination of many complex issues, including competitive balance, revenue sharing, television, scheduling and player employment," Tagliabue said. "The committee recognized the economic conditions in professional sports and the general economy are difficult to assess beyond the term of the current NFL television contracts. The committee also recognized the possible bearing on expansion of the current labor relations situation in the league. If this continues, the prospects for adding new clubs could be negatively affected." The TV contracts run through 1994.
On realignment, the committee said it would recommend a limited shuffling of teams for 1992. No major changes in conferences can be made under the current television contract without permission of the networks.
However, several owners favor a radical realignment, along geographical boundaries, for 1994.
Former commissioner Pete Rozelle was against expansion until a labor agreement could be signed. But the league hasn't had one since October 1987 and with no negotiations taking place and the labor-management relationship bogged down in a slew of public attacks and lawsuits, Tagliabue decided not to wait.
"Commissioner Tagliabue doesn't believe in being held hostage by the" NFL Players Association, said Joe Browne, NFL vice president of communications and development.
Several cities have begun preparations for getting a team. Baltimore has the financing in place for a stadium that would be built near the new downtown baseball stadium.
Charlotte has announced plans for a 70,000-seat stadium that would be built if a franchise is awarded.
"Our investment in having complete site specific drawings prepared and the cooperation of the city, county and state governments . . . will give us that much more of a head start," said Mark Richardson, general manager of Richardson Sports. "We would have no trouble whatsoever being ready with our state-of-the-art stadium for the 1993 season."
The committee on realignment and expansion is comprised of owners Tom Benson of New Orleans, Norman Braman of Philadelphia, Hugh Culverhouse of Tampa Bay, Edward J. DeBartolo of San Francisco, Art Modell of Cleveland and Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh, and Jim Finks, New Orleans's president.