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The NFL's new eight-year, $17.6B TV package was unanimously approved yesterday by league owners "who also were told to expect the player salary cap" to increase from $41.5M in '97 to between $53M to $55M for the '98 season, according to Leonard Shapiro of the WASHINGTON POST. The final cap amount "will be determined" when the league and its TV partners "settle on the payment schedule" for the first year of the deal, which "should be completed by the end of next week." Owners were "clearly" in a "buoyant mood" in discussing the TV deal. Afterward, Raiders Owner Al Davis said, "In the last contract, as soon as it was over, ABC and ESPN were sold to Disney for [$19.6B]. CBS was sold for [$6.5B]. One of the outstanding features of that difference was CBS not having the NFL. When you see what Fox did (with football), we built that network" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/23). Ravens Owner Art Modell: "Why should I be happy? We are just going to give it all to the players, anyway." In Boston, Will McDonough notes the increasing salary cap and adds, "It didn't take long to realize that Modell was on the money" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/23). ART HAS HIS: Modell admitted yesterday that the TV deal will make it tougher for cities to attain public funding for facility financing: "I think it'll be a long time before you see a publicly subsidized stadium again, even though most of the money goes to the players. I wish I would say it's not so, but that's the case" (Vito Stellino, Balt. SUN, 1/23). Modell, on Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen, who is lobbying for public help on a new stadium: "Nobody can stand up now and say they need a new stadium and those new revenues in order to stay competitive. ... I think Pat has a good, sound position on needing a new stadium, but I don't know how politically inviting it will be for the city fathers to support it. With this kind of money coming in, that's going to be an awfully tough sell." In Denver, Bob Kravitz: "The sound you just heard? That's Bowlen's jaw dropping to the pavement" (Bob Kravitz, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 1/23). TALKS OFF: In N.Y., Mike Freeman reports that the NFL and NFLPA "have reached an impasse" on a CBA extension and "both sides feel a pact won't be reached soon." NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw: "Talks have broken off" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/23). NOTES: One of the NFL's int'l exhibition games will be played in Vancouver this year, on August 15, between the 49ers and Seahawks (TORONTO SUN, 1/23)....The forecast for Sunday in San Diego is for mostly clear skies with a high near 70 (Mult., 1/23)....Bill Walsh contributes an op-ed in the N.Y. TIMES on the hiring of minority coaches in the NFL, writing that litigation will not solve the "problems of hiring in the N.F.L." Walsh: "Those with the most influence have not necessarily been active addressing the social undercurrent. ... The reason is that most owners do not regularly come into contact with African-Americans other than to talk with them after a game" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/23).
The NHL "should consider" staging a game featuring the top 40 Canadian Hockey League prospects during its All-Star Weekend, according to Kostya Kennedy of SI. Kennedy: "The NHL dreads the logistical nightmare of adding the CHL game to an already overstuffed weekend. They're also afraid that the game might not draw fans in U.S. cities. But if the game is packaged with the All-Stars skill competition, spectators will turn out" (SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, 1/26 issue).
Latrell Sprewell's arbitration hearing, which will begin next week in Portland, OR, is examined by Mike Wise of the N.Y. TIMES. Sprewell has been in New York since Tuesday to "go over the legal brief" the NBPA has prepared and yesterday Wise spoke to him and members of his defense team. The matter will be heard by Fordham Law School Dean John Feerick, and NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter referred to Feerick and said, "To what extent is he affected by public pressure? I think the N.B.A. reaped a media bonanza on this thing, and that's one of the reasons we haven't been able to settle. It's been such a windfall for them that any step back would be interpreted as a retreat" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/23). Sprewell told Peter Vecsey, "I realize what a big mistake I made." But Sprewell added, "It's as if I'm another O.J. Simpson. Yes, I was wrong, but I didn't kill anybody. I'm not a double murderer" (N.Y. POST, 1/23). REF TROUBLE: SI's Jackie MacMullan reports that the Federal Government is "poised to indict as many as seven referees next month," with 15 still under investigation for allegedly downgrading NBA airline tickets, pocketing the money and failing to declare it. MacMullan adds that a sampling of NBA coaches and GM's showed that most "agreed that the removal of seven refs would be disastrous" to the quality of officiating (SI, 1/26 issue).
The IRL opens its season this weekend with the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway, and Juliet Macur of the ORLANDO SENTINEL writes, "After two years of stumbling, the IRL hopes to show the racing world that it finally has weaned itself from [CART]." IRL execs "expect the 50,000- seat grandstands to be almost full." IRL Founder Tony George "expects this season to be the IRL's strongest yet." The league has signed Pep Boys as its title sponsor, each of its 11 races will be broadcast live on network or cable TV and "for the first time, there will be drivers who will not automatically make it into the race because there are more drivers than there are starting spots." George: "There is really no dialogue between CART and the IRL anymore. Now we're focused on our product and they're focused on theirs" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 1/23). In Ft. Lauderdale, Richard Biebrich writes the IRL "is here to stay." Biebrich: "Struggling since its first race in 1996 for an identity of its own, the IRL now has a major sponsor in Pep Boys and stars such as Tony Stewart" (SUN-SENTINEL, 1/23). In Dallas, Holly Cain: "There are those who figured the [IRL] would just go away. But corporate America has other ideas. ... The big-time involvement of a company such as Pep Boys sends a message that the series has arrived, whether you still question the competency of its drivers or the level of competition" (Holly Cain, DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/22).