The University of Maryland is unlikely to have a $25 million corporate naming sponsor for a new basketball arena and convocation center in place before the annual 90-day state legislative session begins in four weeks, a university official said yesterday.

If a naming-rights deal is made, the state is expected to appropriate $45 million toward the $90 million project, enabling construction to begin. Construction will not begin without the state appropriation, which will not be made without a naming-rights deal or alternative financing.

The remaining $20 million would be paid by the university and the athletic department through student athletic fees, other sponsorship deals and tax-deductible donations for preferred seating.

University officials still hope the building will open in 2002.

Bill Destler, a university vice president and dean who is leading the university's negotiating team, said he hopes to reach a tentative agreement with a naming sponsor by the end of January.

Discussions now are moving "at a snail's pace" because of the holiday season, according to a corporate official whose company is talking to the university.

Destler said the university is discussing a naming-rights deal with "two or three" companies. He declined to name them, but sources have said Maryland has talked to Comcast Corp., a telecommunications and entertainment company based in Philadelphia; Enron Energy Services, based in Houston; and Discovery Communications, based in Bethesda. Another unidentified company may be involved at this time, sources said.

Destler said he remains optimistic that Maryland will obtain the naming sponsorship.

"These negotiations are quite complicated," he said. "They involve all kinds of things. It's a long process."

Comcast is the nation's No. 3 cable television provider, owning systems in the Baltimore and Richmond areas, among others. It also owns the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers, a minor league hockey team, two sports arenas and a sports cable channel in Philadelphia through its Comcast Spectacor division. Comcast also holds majority interests in the QVC Shopping Network and E! cable network.

Steve Burch, Comcast's senior vice president for the mid-Atlantic region, said his company is in the "very early stages" of talks with the university. Negotiations are "moving along at a reasonable pace," Burch said. "If we have a deal, it will be some time next year before we have it." He said he doubted an agreement could be reached by the end of January, however.

If Enron does not become the naming sponsor, Maryland officials hope the company will buy another form of sponsorship for the building. Discussions about those types of sponsorship deals are proceeding at the same time as talks for naming rights and include other companies as well, Destler said.

Peggy Mahoney, an Enron spokeswoman, said it is company policy not to discuss any negotiations.

John Hendricks, founder and CEO of Discovery Communications, whose properties include the Discovery Channel and the Learning Channel, was traveling yesterday and was unavailable to comment. A spokesman declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Athletic Director Debbie Yow said the athletic department intends to extend its contract with ISI Corp., a New Jersey-based consulting firm that helps broker corporate sponsorship deals. The department's contract with ISI expired Nov. 30.

Staff writer Josh Barr contributed to this report.