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IHL Aeros President Steve Patterson announced that he will leave the club to head up the efforts of Houston business exec Bob McNair and Aeros Owner Chuck Watson to bring an NFL team to Houston. McNair and Watson have formed Houston NFL Holdings L.L.C. Former IHL exec Richard Adler will assume Patterson's role as Aeros President (Aeros). WHAT IT MEANS: With a March deadline "looming," McNair, Watson and Patterson are "accelerating planning for a new football stadium," according to John Williams in a front- page story in today's HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Harris County- Houston Sports Authority Chair Jack Rains has also "started his own fact-finding mission on how much money the authority will need to build a stadium." In addition, Enron Corp. Chair Ken Lay, who has raised almost $40M to help pay for a new Astros ballpark, "will resume raising private funds to help subsidize stadium construction." Lay "is expected to seek another" $30M for a football stadium and basketball/ hockey arena. Houston NFL Holdings has hired KC-based HOK and Houston-based Linbeck Construction "to estimate the cost of the three projects." HOK and Linbeck "will consider" renovating the Astrodome; building a new domed stadium; or updating Rice Stadium "with luxury boxes and other amenities to generate enough revenues" for an NFL team. Houston NFL Holdings also hired Arthur Andersen for financial estimates; Leisure Management Int'l to determine operating costs of a facility; and NC-based financial expert Max Muhlman to "determine how many [PSLs], club seats and luxury boxes the Houston market will bear." Williams: "Though McNair and Watson may try to buy an existing team and move it to Houston, they are placing most attention on vying with Los Angeles for one of the two expansion franchises the NFL is expected to award next year" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 12/4).
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue says the NFL "will fight bids by any second-year college players to enter the '98 draft." Tagliabue: "We think our rules (limiting signings to players with at least three years of college) will stand up in court" (Peter King, SI, 12/8 issue)....The ATP Tour took out a full-page ad in USA TODAY congratulating Pete Sampras on being chosen by players, journalists and tournament directors as the game's No. 1 player of the last 25 years. Balloting was conducted to commemorate the Tour's 25th Anniversary. Rounding out the top five were Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl (THE DAILY)....The ABL Storm-StingRays game in Long Beach last night started over 45 minutes late when the three ABL officials scheduled to referee did not show up. ABL ref Chuck Gonzales was sitting in the stands as a spectator, and agreed to ref the game. Another ABL ref, Mariane Karp, who lives near the arena, was called and agreed to drive over to do the game. ABL Dir of Officials Ernie Yarbrough was unavailable to comment who was supposed to officiate the game and why they didn't show up (Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM, 12/4)....The ABL will sponsor its first dunk contest January 17 at the All-Star Game in Orlando, FL (DENVER POST, 12/4).