Despite much speculation that the National Football League will delay expansion because of the recession, a league spokesman said yesterday that its target date for expansion still is 1993.
Joe Browne, the league's vice president of communications and development, said in a conference call outlining the agenda for the league's annual March meeting next week that there has been no official change in commissioner Paul Tagliabue's aim to get two teams on the field by 1993.
"We're talking about making the decision to go ahead or not to go ahead either this year or certainly early 1992 at the latest. . . . Right now, the commissioner's position which was supported by the realignment and expansion committee is that the addition on the field [of two teams] for 1993 deserves intensive evaluation, which is what we're doing at this point. Yes, that [target date] still remains the same," Browne said.
Tagliabue said last year that expansion would come "possibly by 1992, certainly by 1993." Last July, the league set a target date of 1993.
The speculation about a delay has grown in recent weeks because the NFL has fallen behind baseball in implementing expansion plans.
While baseball has narrowed the field to six cities, the NFL's expansion committee hasn't met since last September and the owners haven't discussed the issue since last October when Tagliabue said the Persian Gulf situation and/or the economy could delay expansion.
But Browne said the league is still in the process of conducting an internal review of expansion and will have what he called a "brief discussion" with the owners on the topic at the annual meeting in Hawaii next week.
He said the review isn't completed yet, but the expansion committee will be briefed when it is and the owners will then discuss it at a meeting in Minneapolis in May.
Browne said the internal review is covering such items as the cost of an expansion franchise, how it will be paid and the ramifications of expansion on television and realignment. It also is studying whether it's better to award franchises to two old cities (that lost teams), two new cities or one of each.
At least seven cities in the expansion derby -- Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., Jacksonville, Fla., Oakland, Calif., and Sacramento, Calif. -- will be represented at the meeting in Hawaii.
The Baltimore delegation will consist of Herbert Belgrad, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman, Henry Butta, the president and CEO of the C&P; Telephone Co. of Maryland and David Julian, the director of business development of the Greater Baltimore Committee.
In past years, Baltimore was represented by a larger group and had a hospitality room, but Tagliabue asked the cities not to have hospitality rooms, receptions or large delegations that included political leaders.
Tagliabue didn't seem comfortable with all the lobbying by the cities in the past, especially when Jacksonville held a lavish reception for the owners in Orlando, Fla., last year.
Belgrad said Baltimore is following Tagliabue's request.