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NO ANSWERS FROM PHOENIX.

Byline: Bob Keisser

The NFL might someday expand to Los Angeles or Houston, but it is becoming increasingly clear that a decision here at the league's winter meetings this week is unlikely.

The combination of a late rally of support for Houston and owner trepidation over the league's suggested L.A. solution has created a stalemate. The expansion committee adjourned again Monday without recommending membership. It will convene again this morning in search of a consensus.

``We don't have 24 votes for Los Angeles, We don't have 24 votes for Houston. We don't have 24 votes to expand,'' said Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, the co-chair of the expansion committee. ``What we've got are problems.''

The 12-member expansion committee can recommend a franchise be granted to either city, but a 24-vote majority of the league owners is required before the franchise is awarded.

``We don't have a consensus,'' said Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson. ``We go round and round. Houston has a stadium. L.A. is a key market, but its bids are nebulous. I don't think we'll even take a vote on it before these meetings are done.

``But who knows? Things can happen fast around here. Nothing ever surprises me.''

With good reason. A few weeks ago, key players at the highest level of the NFL had devised a scenario to give L.A. a tenuous bid that would attract other bidders besides Michael Ovitz (Carson) and Ed Roski (New Coliseum) and keep Houston as a backup.

That idea is still being advanced. But its backers didn't count on the reticence of several owners to expansion in general and Houston businessman Robert McNair's aggressive campaign.

McNair's campaign had the advantage of a face, plus a committed wallet, to go with the name. While the league kept the Ovitz and Roski bids somewhat at bay, McNair rounded up support, so much so that he believes he has a majority of the 12 votes on the expansion committee.

``No one ever comes up and says, `We'll vote for you,' '' said McNair. ``But based on what they say, I think I have a majority. Someone said the committee took a straw vote Sunday and it was 12-0 in favor of L.A. I think that was the vote to adjourn.

``This is a difficult issue to begin with. Owners come knowing they have a decision to make on expansion, but they really don't get the chance to look at the proposals until they get here.''

Now that they have, some owners favor Houston.

Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney spoke on Houston's behalf Monday during the general session, Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt said he personally favors Houston, and Dallas owner Jerry Jones conceded Houston has a good case.

San Diego owner Alex Spanos emphatically supported Houston, in part because it has a firm commitment from local politicians.

``Tell me what Los Angeles has got?'' asked Spanos. ``I've said 100 times that I want a team in L.A., but they have to want it, too. I want L.A. (politicians) to come to me and say, `Here's what we'll do,' just as Houston has.

``It unfortunately took Bud Adams leaving to get Houston where it is today. It took Baltimore 10 years and St. Louis seven to learn the lesson. It took Cleveland six months.''

Carson mayor Peter Fajardo, whose city is committed to a $180 million investment, said, ``We're still hopeful,'' despite Monday's lack of a decision. A spokesman for Ovitz did not return phone calls.

Roski, the Kings owner and industrial real estate baron, took the news in stride and thinks L.A. is in the lead of this race. ``I don't think they ever promised us a decision (here). Their intent was to find some direction,'' he said. He said no one from the league has handed him a list of conditions he has to meet or even mentioned what the franchise fee will be. But he's prepared to follow through if needed.

``We probably would respond like we have from the start,'' he said. ``They suggested we redesign the stadium; we did. They suggested we add to the ownership group, and we did. We're open to anything they might say.''

That would include a private response to any league request for more public money, as Spanos indicated. The New Coliseum proposal includes more than $300 million in public investment, but most of it is in the form of already completed infrastructure.

``We've been very clear on this,'' Roski said. ``Los Angeles does not have the ability to do any (more public financing) than it has. And what they've done is significant. If there's something else they want, we can deal with it privately.''

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he is hopeful that the meeting will produce some kind of decision. He said the best possible situation in L.A. would be for all interested parties to unify themselves. At this stage of things, something like that might have to take place before the owners are ready to return to L.A.

Pat Bowlen, who is pro-L.A., said the league might need to look at this as a two-part process - give one city an expansion team and work with the other as a future home for an existing team with stadium concerns.

McNair wrote letters to eight owners saying he'd like to buy their teams and move them to Houston if he doesn't get an expansion team.

``Hey, we can wait forever,'' Roski said. `` Our facility isn't going away.''

The league meetings adjourn Wednesday and the owners will meet again in May.

KEY POINTS

At least four NFL owners strongly favor Houston, which has a stadium and firm commitments from local politicians.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would like the L.A. parties to unify their groups.

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

PHOTO An artist's rendering of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the site proposed by Ed Roski for an NFL team.

Daily News File

BOX: KEY POINTS (see text)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 16, 1999
Words:996
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