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Volume 21 No. 30
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Vegas, Kansas City, Cleveland-Canton vie for 2020 NFL draft

From the NFL owners’ meetings: Atlanta

Three sites are vying for the 2020 NFL draft, after the league last week awarded Nashville the right to host the 2019 football festival during its meeting in Atlanta.

Las Vegas, Kansas City and a joint bid from Canton, Ohio, and Cleveland all seek the draft that will fall prior to the 100th anniversary season of the NFL. Those three, along with Denver, were finalists for 2019. (Denver has an unspecified conflict in 2020.)

Canton, site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has tried for several years to secure the draft but discovered it is all but impossible to beat out cities that have NFL teams. Now, by pairing with the Browns, the hall of fame has eased that issue.

The inclusion of Las Vegas shows yet again the NFL’s evolving tolerance of sports gambling. Last year, the owners agreed to allow the Oakland Raiders to relocate to Sin City, a move expected in 2020. And the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the largely national ban of sports gambling compelled the NFL to call for federal regulation of the sector.

TABLE STAKES: Sports gambling got very little attention from owners as they focused on other matters, like the national anthem and awarding big events. But it is on the radar of the league, obviously.

“There is a lot that has to happen in terms of regulation at both the federal and state level, so we have a long way to go to really see what the landscape is going to look like,” said Art Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers owner.

Asked about changes to NFL policies, such as allowing gambling sponsorships or bets at stadiums, Rooney said to expect decisions on such matters sometime this year.

WHO’S IN CONTROL? Nashville getting the draft is recognition of the city’s enthusiasm for mega spectacles, which was on display during both the Titans’ uniform unveiling last month and the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final last year. 

Nevertheless, Titans ownership is still operating out of compliance with league rules. Two years ago, the NFL fined the owners, the heirs to late owner Bud Adams, for not having a designated control owner. The heirs have been unable to agree on who should be in charge, for the time being giving that role to Amy Strunk, Adams’ daughter. In the press conference announcing the draft, Strunk described herself as the “controlling” owner, the first time in many years of covering NFL meetings we have heard an owner use that adjective.

As has been the case for the past couple of years, she was the team’s ownership member who cast votes for the franchise at last week’s meetings.

Two league sources told us different things: One said that the Titans structure will soon be resolved, while another said otherwise. Steve Underwood, the team president, genially waved off the question when asked. So, the Titans may have the draft, they just don’t have ownership clarity. The league requires one owner to have full voting control.

ANTHEM VIEW: This meeting will of course be long remembered as the one at which the NFL declared that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to the American flag and said there are fines for teams with players who do so.

In my opinion, the NFL’s business had already taken whatever hit it was going to take from the controversy. It seems there were enough owners who strongly believed that players should stand for the anthem, as they are required to do in the NBA, or at least were spooked by what political turmoil could ensue from the kneeling. Some clearly disagreed. 49ers owner Jed York abstained from the vote, and New York Jets owner Chris Johnson — who has assumed the role while his brother Woody serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom — pledged to cover any potential player fines. (That is an easy gesture because the policy leaves it up to the teams as to whether or not they will punish players who kneel for the anthem.)

The bigger question is if the league will lose whatever goodwill it had built up with players as the two sides eye collective-bargaining talks. It’s hard to imagine at this point that it won’t. This upcoming season is the seventh of the 10-year CBA.