A dozen NFL owners met in Washington yesterday to discuss various options for awarding a 32nd franchise to either Los Angeles or Houston, without coming close to reaching a consensus on one city over the other.
The league's expansion committee, made up of members of the league's stadium and finance committees, met for three hours with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and members of his staff. No representatives from prospective ownership groups attended; they will meet at league headquarters in New York on Monday with Tagliabue and expansion committee co-chairmen Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, and Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers.
Last March, the league gave various groups in Los Angeles until Sept. 15 to come up with a unified plan for a site for a new stadium. If no agreement could be reached, the league was expected to recommend that Houston be awarded an expansion franchise.
Tagliabue said yesterday he would like the 14-member expansion committee to offer the full ownership a recommendation on one city or the other at the league's next scheduled meeting Oct. 6 in Atlanta. Another league meeting is scheduled in Chicago Nov. 2-3, and a final resolution and full vote probably will be taken then, though that also could occur in Atlanta. Any recommendation must be approved by a three-quarters majority of the owners, or at least 24 votes.
Tagliabue said the consensus yesterday was not to extend the Sept. 15 deadline for Los Angeles.
"The committee was well aware of the Sept. 15 timetable and did not make any changes to it," Tagliabue said. "There were no recommendations, no consensus and a lot of different points of view. We came into the meeting to bring everyone up to date as to where the various candidates are at this point."
In Los Angeles, there are four sites vying for a team--the Los Angeles Coliseum, Hollywood Park and two suburban sites, Carson and Anaheim. Tagliabue said the cost of the Coliseum project has remained a major concern because there will be overruns of more than $275 million than originally projected by its proponents.
The Carson site, about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, has been backed by powerful Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz. Carson officials also have said they are prepared to spend public funds for the project, and will make their case on Monday in New York. Hollywood Park and Anaheim are both considered long shots, but representatives also will attend Monday.
Asked if the continued wrangling in Los Angeles was causing some owners to back off and start pushing for Houston, Tagliabue said, "People are not throwing their hands up and saying let the chips fall where they may. No. Everyone wants to treat this as a very serious business decision, and we're looking at all the possibilities."
Tagliabue also said there has been no discussion about the league offering one of the two competing cities the choice of getting an existing franchise moved to that city or an expansion team. When Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore three years ago, the league made an agreement with the city of Cleveland to field a team there in 1999, also without specifying what kind of team it would be. The Browns will begin play Sunday as an expansion franchise.
"The one thing that was clear today was that there is no clear consensus," Kraft said after the meeting. "There are very divergent opinions. It's why we set up the meeting on Monday. The membership wants to be sure that every alternative has been explored so we can have a solution. People would also like to see this come to an end so we can get on to other business."