IRVING, Texas -- When NFL owners decide on expansion franchises later this month, their vote -- at least the first one -- apparently will be on a two-city package.
The seemingly mundane procedural matter, decided at a meeting yesterday of two NFL ownership committees, could have significant implications for Baltimore's hopes of rejoining the league.
The city's candidacy -- which features a strong financial package -- is generally given its highest marks when viewed apart from the other cities. But when the city is paired with other contenders, the issue muddies.
Members of the expansion and finance committees met in this Dallas suburb for nearly four hours yesterday going over issues related to expansion.
Besides Baltimore, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., are seeking franchises.
The league plans to award a pair of franchises, and there is some sentiment within the NFL to make one of them a city that lost a team -- St. Louis or Baltimore -- and the other a new market.
Also, three of the five finalists are on the East Coast, and, in pairing, the committees may be reluctant to put both too close together.
But Roger Goodell, the NFL's director of development, said such machinations won't govern the committees' thinking.
"I think the committees are going to look for the two best markets and will not feel constrained by those parameters," Goodell said.
He said the committees decided to present a single, two-city resolution to all NFL owners on Oct. 26 because "the committees were charged with recommending two cities."
Reached at home in Baltimore, Herbert J. Belgrad, head of Baltimore's NFL effort, said he thought the two-city process would work to Baltimore's benefit because the city's strengths would be revealed more clearly in committee.
If the resolution fails to attract the necessary 21 of 28 votes, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue can table it and open the floor to discussion. Committee members then could try to sway some votes or solicit other recommendations, he said.
Under guidelines set yesterday, the committees will meet in Chicago at 8 a.m. on Oct. 26 to determine their recommendation. The full ownership then will convene at 1 p.m. and, before hearing the recommendation, see a 15-minute presentation by each of the candidate cities.
Because it is the only city with two ownership groups competing for a team, Baltimore will get an additional 10 minutes. The two prospective owners -- Florida-based financier Malcolm Glazer and an investment group led by retail executive Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass -- each will have half of that time for private presentations.
Then the committees will present their proposal for a vote.
In other matters yesterday, owners and league officials dismissed suggestions that either of Baltimore's ownership groups had not met league expectations.
"We're comfortable with them. I don't think there was anybody in there who came out negative," said Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons.
Two sources in yesterday's closed-door meeting said the moral and financial backgrounds of the potential owners were discussed in detail.
Weinglass' colorful past, which included gambling as a youth, was mentioned, but did not emerge as a problem, sources said.
"He's been very upfront with us about his background. I don't think it's a problem," a source said.
Also at the meetings:
* St. Louis continues to be bedeviled by ownership troubles. St. Louis businessman James Busch Orthwein dropped back last month from lead investor to a minority partner in the city's prospective ownership group.
The new controlling partner of the group, Jerry Clinton, has been scrambling ever since to come up with new investors. Several names were mentioned to the committees yesterday, but the final composition of the group is still in flux.
"Obviously, it would be easier to deal with today if all of the pieces were in place, but I would not describe it as a major obstacle," Goodell said.
"I think it's important they get a firm ownership as soon as possible," he added.
The St. Louis situation further is clouded because Orthwein owns but is trying to sell the New England Patriots. Despite a potential conflict of interest, Orthwein is likely to be allowed to vote on expansion, Goodell said.
* Charlotte investors submitted on Monday modifications of their financing plan. NFL owners had raised questions about a provision of the plan that would divert certain revenue that ordinarily goes to visiting teams in order to cover a stadium debt.
Under the revised plan, the more than $3 million a year in club-seat revenue would continue to be diverted, but only for five years instead of the 15 called for in the previous plan.
One NFL source said: "That makes us more comfortable."
But, the source said, some owners still are concerned about the city's debt load.
Charlotte's NFL group is the only one trying to finance a franchise and stadium privately, a more than $300 million proposition.
How NFL owners will proceed in Chicago on Oct. 26, when they are scheduled to decide on two expansion franchises:
* Expansion and finance committees determine a two-city recommendation.
* The 28 league owners convene and see 15-minute presentations from expansion candidates.
* The committees present their recommendation, and owners vote on a two-city package -- 21 of 28 votes needed.