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Rams’ Move to Highlight NFL Owners’ Meeting

March 10, 1995

PHOENIX (AP) _ Franchise moves in the NFL seem to revolve around Phoenix.

It was in Phoenix in 1988 that the St. Louis Cardinals got permission to move to the Arizona desert. And it will be in Phoenix this week that the Los Angeles Rams will seek permission to fill that seven-year void in St. Louis.

It will be a contentious week. Also on the agenda are the usual issues _ from officiating to realignment _ so it could be the busiest four days the owners have spent in a while.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue plans to recommend that the league not approve the relocation. But the owners could vote to approve the move over his objections.

Not only are the Rams proposing to relocate, but Raiders owner Al Davis wants out of the Los Angeles Coliseum and could even desert the area, leaving the NFL without a team in the nation’s second-largest market. When the Cardinals came here from St. Louis, it was a move from one area to another of similar size.

``It’s one issue if there are two teams in the Los Angeles area. There’s a different issue if there’s one. And if there are zero teams in Los Angeles. That’s something else that has to be discussed,″ says Joe Browne, the league’s chief spokesman.

``Frankly, zero teams in Los Angeles would probably be unacceptable.″

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tagliabue said an evaluation of the move ``has confirmed among other things the league’s interest in both the short term and the long term are best served by having two teams in the greater Los Angeles area.″

But Rams president John Shaw still expects the team to move to St. Louis, ``because it’s the right thing for the league, and for St. Louis, and for the Rams.″

There are also the more routine proposals to consider, such as the approval of Malcolm Glazer as new owner of the Tampa Bay Bucs and a discussions of officiating and other on-field problems.

While instant replay will be discussed, is unlikely to return despite some obvious officiating gaffes in last season’s playoffs. Tagliabue will discuss with coaches and owners ways to improve officiating and cut down on injuries, and the league may look at long-term replay with improved technology.

The Rams’ move probably will involve the longest debates.

For before the owners vote on the Rams’ move, they must take up issues that relate to it, like the Raiders’ stadium situation. If they get a firm commitment from Davis to stay in Los Angeles, they probably will be more likely to vote for a Rams move; if the Raiders’ whereabouts are unresolved, they may not.

But while the likelihood remains that the owners will allow the Rams to move, there are several factors working against their relocation.

One is tradition: The Rams have been an institution in Southern California for 50 years and some owners believe they belong there.

``I’m not for teams just moving around at will,″ says the Steelers’ Dan Rooney, one of the most respected of the NFL’s old guard owners. ``There have to be some guidelines. There has to be some regard for the fans.″

Another is league rules for franchise movement, which include a clause that allows owners to turn down a move if a team’s problems are due to ``poor management.″ Some owners believe that lies behind the decline of the team on the field and at the box office.

There also is the objection by Fox Television, which is paying a record $1.58 billion to televise NFC games for four years. A move by the Rams from the second-largest market to the 18th-largest probably would require some kind of rebate.

League officials say the rebate could easily made up by additional revenues generated by the Rams in St. Louis. Georgia Frontiere, the Rams’ owner, maintains visiting teams will get $900,000 each from visits to St. Louis, compared with $400,000 in Anaheim.

Even if the owners kill the move, the Rams are likely to go to court. Davis, who moved to Los Angeles from Oakland in 1981, successfully won a court fight over the Raiders’ relocation.

Further entangling the situation is another proposal that will be before the owners, reducing the percentage of votes necessary for major moves from three-quarters to two-thirds.

That measure first came on the table when the NFL voted to expand to 30 teams. With 28 teams, 21 votes were needed to approve major measures; now it’s 23.

If the vote was moved to two-thirds, each measure would require 20 votes. There also is a proposal that would require 70 percent, or 21 votes. Opponents of the Rams’ move might not want to make the commitment to change the number of votes.

Among other issues:

_ There seems little chance there will be a realignment plan approved for 1996. Realignment is a divisive issue that forced Tagliabue to put the expansion franchises into four-team divisions _ Carolina in the NFC West and Jacksonville in the AFC Central.

_ Replay will be discussed, but there is division within the Competition Committee, which must make the recommendation. The co-chairmen _ coach Don Shula of the Dolphins and general manager George Young of the Giants _ have always been on opposite sides of the debate, Shula for and Young against.

_ The owners are expected to approve the Bucs’ sale from the estate of the late Hugh Culverhouse to Glazer. There seems little debate over that one, but the Finance Committee will have to give final approval.

Unlike last year, when the league instituted rules changes to increase scoring, there is likely only to be some adjustment this time.

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