The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined without comment to hear the NFL's appeal of a lower-court ruling that the league violated antitrust law by trying to prevent the Raiders from moving from Oakland to Los Angeles. The protracted legal battle over the Raiders' 1982 shift to L.A. isn't over, however. Still unresolved are the city of Oakland's eminent-domain suit to return the Raiders to that city and the NFL's appeal of a trial court's antitrust treble-damages award of $49.2 million to the Raiders and their present landlord, the Los Angeles Coliseum. In that action the league is hoping the Supreme Court may yet overturn the antitrust ruling against it. Meanwhile, the NFL has been trying to persuade Congress to enact legislation that would allow it to make franchise relocation decisions without being subject to federal antitrust law.
As its dispute with the Raiders drags on, the damage to the NFL mounts. In seeking greener pastures in L.A. even though his team had enjoyed 12 straight years of sellouts in Oakland, Raiders managing general partner Al Davis precipitated the dispute; just because the move was legal doesn't mean it was right. But NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Davis's bitter adversary, has compounded the folly with his costly opposition to the move. The NFL's legal fees for the case have been estimated at $6 million or more, a figure that will seem like loose change if it also has to pay the $49 million-plus judgment—not to mention $11 million or so in interest and another $7 million to cover the Raiders' legal fees. Rozelle & Co. could have better used the resources and energy expended in fussing with Davis to shore up the league's declining popularity.
The really sad part of all this is that the NFL still doesn't seem to have come to grips with the implications of the Raiders' case. For one thing, the league could have easily lived with the Raiders in L.A.—as indeed it has since the club relocated there at the start of the 1982 season. Beyond that, the team's move isn't necessarily the awful precedent that Rozelle implies it is. The lower-court decision that the Supreme Court let stand last week doesn't prevent a professional league from having a say in franchise relocation; it merely holds that the NFL's specific rule that franchise moves be approved by a three-fourths vote of its 28 teams is unreasonable. The court implied that the league would be on more solid legal ground if it established objective guidelines governing relocation that took into account such factors as population, economic projections, quality of facilities, fan loyalty and "location continuity."
The league could almost certainly use such guidelines to prevent an eccentric owner from capriciously moving a team out of a major market to, say, northern Montana. And, if guidelines had been in place at the time, it's possible they could have been invoked to prevent Al Davis from abandoning Oakland—and, subsequently, Robert Irsay from taking the Colts out of Baltimore.
Instead of making a good-faith effort to adopt guidelines that might pass judicial muster, the NFL considers itself a special character that should be exempt from the antitrust laws under which other businesses operate. Contrary to what Rozelle has tried to suggest in seeking such an exemption from Congress, the republic won't topple if his league is held accountable under antitrust law. Nor, also contrary to NFL mythology, will municipal governments necessarily fare any worse. In abandoning Oakland, the Raiders thumbed their noses at the NFL, just as the Colts did in leaving Baltimore. But it should be remembered that other teams have bailed out on the nation's two largest cities—the Giants and Jets stuck it to New York and the Rams to L.A.—with the NFL's blessings.
Whatever the outcome of the struggle between Rozelle and Davis, the message to city officials is clear: They ought to think twice before mortgaging their civic birthrights to land or keep a professional sports franchise. They also should bear in mind that a marriage to a pro team is properly sealed not with a kiss but with a long-term lease. There's a lesson for the fans, too. It's O.K. to go to games, enjoy yourselves and root for the home team. But the notion that the team somehow "belongs" to you is an illusion that the case of the Los Angeles (n� Oakland) Raiders ought to shatter once and for all.
At the Big Eight basketball press luncheon, Oklahoma State coach Paul Hansen mused about the impact of the school's decision, in the interest of eliminating barriers between athletes and other students, to close the Cowboys' jock dorm. Noting that all but five of his basketball players now live off campus, Hansen said, "It hasn't affected their grades. They're still bad."
CANTER ON OVER TO CANTERBURY
Harmon Killebrew Downs? Fran Tarkenton Park? Bud Grant Track? Those were among the entries in a contest to name a new pari-mutuel thoroughbred track that's scheduled to open next June in Shakopee, Minn. The judges declined to name the facility after any Minnesota sports figure and settled instead on Canterbury Downs, a name chosen for its English flavor, which suits the track's Tudor architecture, and also because canter is horsey-sounding. But some of the losers among the 56,973 entries showed ingenuity, too. Like Purple Rein, a play on Purple Rain, the hit movie (and album and single) of the Minnesota-born rock star, Prince. Or this one: The Best Little Horse House in the North.