PHOENIX -- The NFL owners prepared to fight another antitrust lawsuit after voting 21-3-6 to ban the Los Angeles Rams' proposed move to St. Louis yesterday, but left the door open for further negotiations with the Rams.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the move had been rejected "at least for this week," but added, "We're still hopeful we can avoid litigation. We're not trying to be confrontational. We're trying to be sensible and fair."
But the two sides are so far apart that a court fight seems inevitable after the owners rejected the Rams' offer of what club sources said was a $26 million payment to settle the issue.
On Monday, Missouri attorney general Jay Nixon said the state would file an antitrust suit against the league if the move were turned down. The Rams also have indicated they likely would sue.
Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, who called the $26 million offer a "substantial payment," called the league's demands "arbitrary and capricious."
It turned out the owners wanted two payments. On top of 35 percent of the $74 million the Rams are getting from the sale of premium-seat licenses in St. Louis, the owners wanted a payment of what sources said would amount to "tens of millions of dollars" into a stadium trust fund to help build a stadium in Southern California.
Joe Browne, a league spokesman, said: "The goal is to have an NFC team back in the Greater Los Angeles area."
The league also said television was a problem, because the Fox network has asked for a rebate if the Rams leave. Rams president John Shaw said the rebate idea came from the league.
Browne called that allegation ridiculous. Browne said the NFL simply asked the three NFL broadcast networks their opinion of the move.
In any case, if the league were forced to pay a rebate, the owners wanted the Rams to pay it. The Rams also rejected that idea.
Both teams have stadium problems and could be candidates to move in the future.
Frontiere said she told the owners before the vote that were conducting "a kangaroo court" and implied she was a victim of sexism.
"I did tell them that Billy Bidwill's move [from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988] was a approved very easily, but of course he is . . ."
She paused and added, "I won't say it."
When she was asked if she meant to say he is a man, she said he was "a very lucky man."
Rams insiders have suggested that, in addition to an antitrust suit, the club may file sex discrimination charges. Frontiere is the league's only woman principal owner.
The league has been through five major antitrust suits since 1981. It took two trials for the Raiders to win the right to move from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, and the league also battled the USFL in court in 1986 and the NFL Players Association in 1993.
The NFL lost all those cases, although the USFL won only $3 in damages and went out of business.
NOTES: The owners closed the meetings by voting to reject instant replay for the playoffs, 18-9-2. . . . The owners approved a proposal to let the third quarterback play in the fourth quarter without making the first two ineligible to return.