Members of the NFL's expansion committee will meet at a downtown Washington law office today to discuss the latest developments involving the return of a franchise to Los Angeles, a possibility that grows dimmer with each passing day.

The league's deadline for Los Angeles to settle on a suitable site for what would be the league's 32nd franchise is Wednesday. Houston, which is prepared to begin construction immediately on a mostly publicly funded stadium, is waiting in the wings if the Los Angeles effort fails, but league officials caution that expansion is not a lock.

A month ago, the league said it no longer considered a plan to renovate the Los Angeles Coliseum as the only possibility for locating an expansion franchise in Los Angeles and reopened discussions with groups in Carson, Hollywood Park and Anaheim.

No vote is expected at today's meeting of the expansion committee, which is made up of members of the league's stadium and finance committees and co-chaired by Carolina owner Jerry Richardson and New England owner Robert Kraft. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other NFL staff members also will attend.

The expansion committee will reconvene at the NFL offices in New York on Monday to hear from representatives of all the Los Angeles sites as well as potential Houston owner Bob McNair, who has an exclusive agreement with the city of Houston to operate the franchise. That agreement expires on Jan. 1. McNair has said previously if he is not awarded an expansion franchise, he will try to entice an existing franchise to Houston.

Once Wednesday's deadline passes, the league could allow Houston to begin construction on a new stadium with the promise of a team -- either an existing franchise or expansion -- for the 2002 or 2003 season. That would give Los Angeles a bit more breathing room to come up with a unified ownership plan and a specific site, while also leaving both cities open for the possible relocation of an existing franchise.

Several teams are looking for new stadiums or improved deals on their current agreements, including Minnesota, New Orleans, Arizona and Buffalo. The league and its network TV partners clearly want a team in Los Angeles, the No. 2 television market in the country. Houston also is considered an excellent market, ranking No. 8.

No decision is expected at least until the next league meeting in Atlanta on Oct. 6, with another owners session scheduled in Chicago Nov. 2-3.