TV dollars, not sense, in control


The front page of Saturday's Philadelphia Inquirer carried a most bizarre story, one of talk that NFL officials have discussed a plan to relocate the Eagles to Los Angeles and the Cincinnati Bengals to Philadelphia to get a team into Southern California as soon as possible.

Two owners, who had heard the talk, quickly dismissed the rumors, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie called the relocation murmurs "absolute, total nonsense."

That may be true, but the mere fact that such a wild plan even made the rounds should drive home the fact that television is at the steering wheel of the American sporting machine.

Simply put, the NFL and other sports organizations will do whatever it takes to appease the great television gods. So Los Angeles will get a shot at a franchise to replace the Rams -- who got league permission last week to move to St. Louis. And Baltimore will be left waiting, again.

The reason: Los Angeles is the nation's second-largest television market, and Baltimore is 21st. Despite 13 years of fan indifference to the Rams and the Raiders, there are simply too many viewers in the L.A. market for the league and the networks to let it go.

Fox, the NFC network, is rumored to be seeking a partial rebate of its rights fees now that there is no conference team in Los Angeles. But the league undoubtedly will move heaven and earth to place an expansion team there or, more likely, shift an existing club so as not to give up any money to Fox.

Oddly enough, the Rams, who were frequently blacked out at home because of a lack of sellouts, will be seen in Los Angeles now that they have moved to St. Louis because the games can be beamed in from the Midwest.

Big doings at ESPN

The big-business types at everyone's favorite all-sports national cable network have been working furiously to lay the groundwork to move into other media.

First, the network, in conjunction with Hearst, which owns 20 percent of ESPN, recently announced plans for a sports magazine, to be published four times a year, with issues focusing on NBA and college basketball, the NFL and a year-end edition. If things go well, the two sides are talking about the possibility of a monthly deal next year.

Late last week, ESPN completed a four-year deal with the forthcoming Big 12 Conference for exclusive broadcast, cable and syndication rights to men's basketball games, starting with the 1996-97 season.

Not only will the new Big 12, which will consist of the old Big Eight along with Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M; and Texas Tech, get the second game slot in ESPN's "Big Monday," but the network, through its Charlotte-based Creative Sports subsidiary, will hold syndication rights for regular-season and conference tournament games, meaning any over-the-air network will have to dicker with ESPN.

South Beach showdown

Over the weekend, Miami Heat forward Glen Rice smoked Orlando for 56 points, a single-game high in the NBA this season, eclipsing the 55 Michael Jordan posted a couple of weeks ago for the Chicago Bulls over the New York Knicks.

In one of those funny little scheduling quirks, the Heat plays host to the Bulls tonight at 7:30 in a game just added to the TBS schedule, because the folks at Turner know you just couldn't get enough of that epic Matt Geiger-Bill Wennington matchup. Verne Lundquist and Chuck Daly have the call.

After the game, TBS will air "Baseball's Back," a live, preseason look-ahead, featuring Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton and Joe Simpson. It might be nice if this quartet left the Atlanta Braves jerseys and the constant references to "we" on the shelf.

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