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Volume 24 No. 113

Leagues Governing Bodies

          When NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced last
     evening that the new Browns franchise will enter the league
     in '99 as an expansion team, the decision "caught many
     attending the league meetings by surprise," according to
     Tony Grossi of the Cleveland PLAIN-DEALER.  It "followed
     roughly one hour of discussion on the subject" by team
     owners and "concluded a down-and-up day that began with
     Cleveland officials fearing a delay."  Speculation had the
     league "unprepared to commit to expansion this week," but
     the owners "retreated to their meeting room, and everything
     seemed to change."  Finally, "no vote was taken, but no
     owner dissented" on the expansion decision.  Tagliabue
     credited Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson for "leading the
     discussion on expanding and swaying owners."  Steelers
     President Dan Rooney said Ravens Owner Art Modell also
     "played a prominent role."  Grossi notes "two other
     surprises" in the announcement: The Browns' debut will come
     at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton against the
     Cowboys in August of '99; and Joe Mack, former Assistant GM
     of the Panthers, will be the Browns' Player Personnel
     Director (Cleveland PLAIN-DEALER, 3/24).  While no expansion
     fee has been finalized, some NFL owners "have already"
     floated a $350-$500M fee (Cleveland PLAIN-DEALER, 3/24).
          BURIED LEGACY: In Akron, David Adams writes the
     expansion decision ends "the chance of Cleveland getting a
     relocated team" and also "helps bury the painful legacy left
     behind by the abrupt 1995 decision by Art Modell to move his
     team to Baltimore."  Modell: "I was one of the people who
     wanted to get this done" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 3/24).
          WHO WILL BE 32? Tagliabue said that the owners will
     hold talks today concerning the next round of expansion,
     mentioning L.A., Houston and Toronto as cities vying to be
     the 32nd team.  In Toronto, Mike Zeisberger says Toronto's
     inclusion "caught everyone ... off-guard" as its chances
     "never had been put forward in this manner by Tagliabue"
     (TORONTO SUN, 3/24).  In Houston, John Williams calls the
     decision "good news" for that city's bid, as had the league
     moved an existing team to Cleveland, "it was possible that
     league owners would not expand at all," as it would mean
     sharing TV revenues (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/24). Saints Owner
     Tom Benson, on future expansion: "Oh, man.  You're looking
     at a few more years for those teams" (USA TODAY, 3/24).

          MLS had a full schedule of games over the weekend as
     its third season opened league-wide.  An announced crowd of
     36,281 attended the Clash-Galaxy game at the Rose Bowl, top
     among the league's weekend gate (THE DAILY).  A crowd of
     18,108 attended DC United's home opener Saturday night
     against the Wizards at RFK Stadium.  In DC, Steven Goff
     reported that "miserable weather certainly was a factor" in
     the team's smallest opening night crowd in its three-year
     history, and that it was "apparent that many fans from the
     Latin American community, angered by the trade of Salvadoran
     star Raul Diaz Arce, did not show."  DC United drew 35,0032
     for their home opener in '96 and 28,749 last season
     (WASHINGTON POST, 3/23).  The Fusion drew 14,653 Saturday
     night at Lockhart Stadium for their game versus the Fire. It
     was the Fire's inaugural MLS game (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/22). 
     In Ft. Lauderdale, Michael Mayo said that the Fusion's
     "novelty factor has faded" in its second game, and that some
     of the announced crowd was "lured by a Ziggy Marley concert
     after the game" (SUN-SENTINEL, 3/22).  In Tampa, the Mutiny
     drew 16,221 for their opener against the Crew at Houlihan's
     Stadium (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/22).  The Burn drew 11,103 against
     the Rapids at the Cotton Bowl (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/22).  
          MLS FACES TESTS: In N.Y., George Vecsey profiled MLS
     Commissioner Doug Logan, and wrote Logan is "talking up the
     concept of his league's being No. 4 1/2 among major sports. 
     He would like his league to feel like the sport of the
     people."  Vecsey: "We could use one of those, what with the
     four established leagues rapidly becoming dominated by
     conglomerations, aiming at corporate clients."  Logan: "The
     biggest piece of garbage in American sports is the luxury
     box, with it couches faced away from the field, facing a
     huge color television set, with everybody eating sushi." 
     Logan said MLS's "four separate groups" of fans include the
     purists, kids who play soccer, Hispanics and the general
     sports fan, "the guy who reads his newspaper back to front,
     the baseball fan who is tired of the players.  That's our
     largest work in progress" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/22).     

          NBA owners voted 27-2 yesterday to reopen their CBA
     with the players and "the next three-and-a-half months will
     determine if this decision results in a civilized duel or
     labor Armageddon," according to David Moore of the DALLAS
     MORNING NEWS.  The CBA, which had three years remaining, now
     expires June 30.   After the vote, NBA Commissioner David
     Stern "chose his words carefully, repeatedly refusing to say
     if the owners would impose a lockout if the two sides can't
     find common a ground before the contract expires."  Stern:
     "We don't want to speculate."  But he did talk of a
     "threshold of pain" that had been put upon the owners in the
     current deal and said "no fair-minded person" could say the
     system is working.  Stern: "Rather than focus on specific
     exceptions, what we'd like to do is say to the players,
     'let's agree on a fair split and work with us.  Whatever we
     promise you will get paid, no less and no more.'"   Moore:
     "This means that owners will seek a hard cap to replace the
     soft cap that now exists. ... The owners focus is to find a
     way to bring salaries, which are escalating at 14 to 15
     percent, in line with the nine to 10 percent growth in
     league revenues."  The NBA and NBPA are schedule to meet on
     or about April 1 (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/24).  Stern: "It's
     our view that we're close to a system that works, but we
     didn't quite hit it this last time" (THE DAILY).  In
     Orlando, Tim Povtak speculates that the Heat and Lakers were
     the two dissenting votes (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/24).
          RESPONSE: NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, in a statement:
     "It is unfortunate the owners have chosen to forfeit three
     years of guaranteed labor peace at a time when the industry
     is so obviously healthy. ... Nonetheless, we are prepared to
     negotiate with the understanding that every facet of the
     [CBA] is open for discussion" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/24).   
          ADD IT UP: Speaking in a conference call, NBA Deputy
     Commissioner Russ Granik said players will receive about
     $995M, or 57.2%, of the league's projected $1.783B in
     basketball-related income (BRI) this season.  That is $160M
     more than the percentage on which "the league's ceiling on
     player payroll, or salary cap, is calculated."  The league
     is "obligated to pay" 48.04% of BRI, or $835M this season. 
     The owners can re-open if the total exceeds 51.8%, or around
     $900M (Mark Asher, WASHINGTON POST, 3/24).  Hunter "disputes
     some of the percentages tossed around by the league," saying
     his figures show 55% of BRI will go to player salaries.  He
     also pointed to money the owners receive that is excluded
     from BRI -- naming rights, signage, team merchandising and a
     percentage of luxury suite revenue -- "in questioning any
     economic hardship the league claims."  But he did call the
     idea of bringing salaries in line with revenues a "prudent
     approach" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/24).  Granik said each
     team will average $23M per year for the next four years of
     the current TV deal and gave the example of the T-Wolves
     paying $21M per year to Kevin Garnett: "[E]ssentially you've
     given away all your network television revenue.  Obviously
     you have other sources of income, but on a long term basis,
     that's not a healthy situation (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24).  USA
     TODAY's David DuPree reports that during a work stoppage,
     NBC and Turner would "make rights fee payments for as long
     as a year.  They'd get reduced payments" in the final year
     of the deal (USA TODAY, 3/25).
          DRAFT DODGERS? In N.Y., Mike Wise reports that with "no
     idea of how the current rookie salary scale will be
     affected, some of the nation's top college underclassmen
     might decide to remain in school" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24). Stern:
     "I think you can speculate that if you're an undergraduate
     thinking about applying, you might have some second thoughts
     if you don't like uncertainty" (THE DAILY).
          REAX: In Philadelphia, Stephen Smith writes the vote
     "could lead to a lockout this summer."  He adds that front-
     office officials from each NBA team were instructed not to
     discuss the labor matter publicly and threatened with an
     "automatic" $1M fine (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/24).  In
     N.Y., Stefan Fatsis calls the move "risky" for a league
     "that has never lost a game to a work stoppage" (WALL STREET
     JOURNAL, 3/24).  In Milwaukee, D. Orlando Ledbetter takes an
     extensive look at the league's labor woes and writes the
     vote is the "first shot in what promises to be a titanic
     labor battle."  Ledbetter adds said that Hunter "figures to
     be more formidable opponent" than former NBPA Exec Dir Simon
     Gourdine.  Agent Charles Tucker: "They can't mess it up any
     worse than what Gourdine and his team did.  That was a
     complete sellout" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/24).  In
     Seattle, Steve Kelly wrote under the header, "Image-Poor NBA
     Faces Ugly Offseason," and added that one "can't hide the
     fact the NBA is in trouble" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/23). 
          PLAYER AND COACHES REAX: Pistons Player Rep Jerome
     Williams: "Our major concern would be them putting a hard
     cap on players' salaries" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/24).  The
     Rockets' Eddie Johnson: "It's going to be bad because I
     don't think they realize how strong the union is now"
     (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/24).  Mavs GM/coach Don Nelson: "We've
     made plans for a busy off-season, but it looks like we'll
     have to trash them" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/24).  
          RAPTORS SALE UPDATE: The league's ownership committee
     recommended that the league approve the Raptors sale to
     Maple Leaf Gardens.  A vote will take place by fax this week
     and approval "should take place without any problems"
     (TORONTO SUN, 3/24).  But David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL
     said the purchase will be delayed "at least another month"
     until owners meet April 21 in New York (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/24).
 

          NFL owners ratified an extension of the CBA through the
     year 2003, but after a "passionate speech" by Giants co-
     Owner Wellington Mara, "things were much closer than
     expected," according to Mike Freeman of the N.Y. TIMES. 
     Although the final vote was 28-1, with Raiders Owner Al
     Davis abstaining, the situation "was much tighter -- and
     dramatic -- than was publicly made known."  Mara is against
     a provision guaranteeing contracts for certain players in
     the new deal, and Freeman writes, "After what one owner
     described as an incredible speech by Mara, an unofficial
     poll was taken" and the measure was stuck at 22 votes, one
     short of the required 23 for passage.  Freeman: "But after
     some rallying by supporters of the extension, the official
     vote was taken, and at that point a small number of owners
     changed their vote" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24).  Eagles Owner
     Jeffrey Lurie said that while "about" ten owners were
     against the guarantee provision, the majority decided that
     "labor peace and other aspects of the deal outweighed that
     one issue" (Phil Sheridan, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/24).
          GET-TOUGH POLICY: In Milwaukee, Tom Silverstein writes
     that the league also took an "unprecedented measure to
     punish those who can't abide by society's rules" with a
     misconduct policy that gives the league power to suspend
     players who plead guilty to or are convicted of violent
     crimes.  The policy has been in place since last August, but
     was not enforced league-wide.  This policy is fully enacted
     July 1 and gives the commissioner oversight to determine
     punishment for repeat offenders.  Tagliabue: "We want to
     deter the misconduct and one way to deter misconduct is to
     impose discipline" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/24).  The
     measure effects all NFL employees (Ron Borges, BOSTON GLOBE,
     3/24).  Among acts specifically mentioned in the new policy:
     hate crimes, domestic violence, use or threat of physical
     violence and illegal possession or distribution of weapons
     (Ira Miller, S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/24).  USA TODAY's Larry
     Weissman writes the measure takes "bold steps against
     athletes convicted of violent crimes" (USA TODAY, 3/24).  
          FROM TAGS TO RICHES? Owners also voted unanimously to
     give Tagliabue a five-year contract extension to 2005. 
     Tagliabue has been in office since November '89 and had two
     years left on his contract that was reportedly worth about
     $2.5M per year.  No salary figures were released by the
     league, but sources say it will double to "at least" $5M a
     year (Leonard Shapiro, WASHINGTON POST, 3/24).
          NOTEBOOK: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft was named Chair
     of the Finance Committee for a four-year term (BOSTON GLOBE,
     3/24)....Tagliabue discussed a plan where the league and
     NFLPA would pledge money towards new stadium construction. 
     He said the plan was in the initial stages and called it "a
     complicated subject" (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/24). 

          The NHLPA is "concerned" about a growing trend among
     player agents to recruit 13-and 14-year-old players and "is
     monitoring the situation," according to Alan Adams of the
     TORONTO STAR, in a follow-up to his Sunday feature on hockey
     agents.  The NHLPA's J.P. Barry: "It hasn't been brought up
     to the player reps (who meet in the summer), but we have
     been monitoring and watching the amount of recruitment." 
     Barry added that the union "would impose age restrictions
     and sanctions against agents who broke the rules only if NHL
     players wanted it done" (TORONTO STAR, 3/24).
          NOTES: In Philadelphia, Rich Hoffman writes that an NHL
     owner "salivates over the playoffs.  For some teams, the
     difference between losing money and breaking even is the
     playoffs.  For other teams, the difference between breaking
     even and making a good buck is the playoffs."  Hoffman adds
     that the Flyers "probably" earn $1.5M per home playoff game
     (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/24)....Hawks Owner Bill Wirtz,
     on the league stopping play during the Olympics: "I was
     raised that you think of season-reservation holders first,
     second and third. ... I believe in never demeaning the
     regular season" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/22).