The Canadian Football League, a concept that fizzled in glitzy Las Vegas, has decided to steer clear of Jackson, Miss.
Faced with another snag in negotiations and a threat of litigation, CFL commissioner Larry Smith announced yesterday that he was suspending the Las Vegas Posse franchise for the 1995 season.
Smith's reluctant decision -- he granted Las Vegas interests four extensions in the search for a new home -- sends budding Posse heroes such as quarterback Anthony Calvillo, receiver Curtis Mayfield and kicker Carlos Huerta into a dispersal draft on Friday.
Beyond that, the league was left with a cumbersome 13 teams, an unbalanced schedule and a seeming credibility crisis.
The Posse thus becomes the first U.S.-based team to go belly-up in the CFL, discounting franchises that never got off the ground in San Antonio in 1993 and Orlando in 1994.
The ever-patient Smith played out a tedious -- if not clumsy -- hand in trying to sell Vegas' expansion franchise to potential investors in Los Angeles, Mobile, Ala., and ultimately Jackson.
"The Vegas situation was a disaster from the beginning," said Baltimore owner Jim Speros. "Maybe this is the way it should have been from the beginning. It just took us seven months to figure it out."
As recently as Saturday, though, the CFL thought it had a buyer for the Posse in William L. Collins, a Virginia businessman who attempted and failed to bring major-league baseball to Northern Virginia this year.
But the deal was undercut when Las Vegas investors asked for more, according to Speros, who was a member of Collins' baseball group.
Speros said Glenn Golenberg, chairman of the board of Las Vegas Major League Sports Inc., which owns the Posse, and Marshall Geller, vice chairman, "ruined the deal" with a request for an additional $250,000 Monday. Collins had agreed to pay $1.8 million for the team on Saturday.
"They verbally agreed with Bill Collins," Speros said. "They had a deal. When he sent the contract to them, they asked for another $250,000. What these guys were trying to do was pin us in a corner. They were threatening us. . . . They were greedy.
"We brought quality people in and they didn't sell. We can't force them to sell."
Speros said Golenberg and Geller threatened a lawsuit when the league talked about revoking the publicly held franchise and awarding a new franchise to Collins in Jackson.
In a 60-minute conference call, Smith made no mention of any threats, but apparently did make a concession in his decision to suspend, rather than revoke, the Vegas franchise.
"If a club ceases to carry on business, the league has the right to revoke the franchise," Smith said. "I thought it was important to work with a public company. I thought the suspension gives them enough time to [find new] buyers."
Smith said Golenberg and Geller have until the end of the calendar year to relocate the franchise.
The decision to go with 13 teams does not figure to deter the CFL from plans to adopt a north-south divisional alignment, even though there are eight Canadian teams and only five U.S. teams.
"We have a vision of how we're going to set this league up," Smith said. "Clearly, I'm not so sure the number of teams in each division is as important as the concept. I think we're headed for a north-south alignment."
League governors voted for the Canada vs. U.S. setup last month, and not only because of the flap over Baltimore's failed bid to bring the Grey Cup south last November.
"Change is something a lot of people want," Speros said. "To get a TV contract, that's what we were told to do. We're trying to do things to help us get a TV contract. CBC [the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.] wanted this, too."
Going to Jackson would not have been a strong move for TV purposes, though. And that was the consolation to yesterday's announcement.
"Some people have said to me, 'It seems like minor league to go to Mississippi,' " Speros said. "That's what I first thought, too. But we'd never have been there if it wasn't for the Vegas situation, anyway."
NOTES: Memphis will get first pick in the dispersal draft and Birmingham the second. They will flip-flop on succeeding rounds. Baltimore, which picks 12th, hopes to get Huerta. . . . The league playoff format calls for the top three teams in each division to qualify, but two wild cards will both come from the North -- or Canadian -- Division. . . . Baltimore coach Don Matthews said the team released running back Sheldon Canley, who may sign with the NFL Denver Broncos. . . . All-CFL cornerback Irvin Smith will be honored Saturday as the first Extra Effort Award Winner by Colts Corral #7 at the Hagerstown Elks Lodge.
8, The CFL's proposed divisional alignment:
British Columbia Lions
Ottawa Rough Riders
% Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Baltimore Football Club
Memphis Mad Dogs
San Antonio Texans
' Shreveport Pirates