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NFL owners want end to July football

NFL owners want no more regular-season games in August or preseason games in July.

In fact, the entire season - except for the Super Bowl - would be pushed back one week under a proposal discussed Tuesday.Exhibition games would start in August. The regular season would begin in September - it began on Aug. 31 this year - and end between Christmas and New Year's Day. The open week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl would be eliminated.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the move would ease stadium conflicts with baseball, help avoid hot-weather games early in the season and - with an eye on the all-important television contract negotiations - improve ratings.

"TV viewing grows later in the fall and winter," Tagliabue said.

The owners are also thinking about cutting one exhibition game or having the league, rather than the teams, schedule some exhibition games to make the match-ups more competitive financially.

Such changes wouldn't be approved until the next major owners' meeting in March, but could take effect as early as next season.

In fact, no major decisions were expected from the current set of meetings, which conclude today. If anything, the move to bring pro football back to Los Angeles appeared to take a step backward.

For the second time this year, Los Angeles Kings owner Edward Roski Jr. and city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, co-chairmen of the New Coliseum Partners, championed their $500 million plan to purchase a team and overhaul the Los Angeles Coliseum in time to start play in the 2001 sea-son.

After the presentation, Roski said he felt his group made progress, but the owners' reaction was hardly overwhelming.

"We've seen that LA presentation on and off," Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said. "I don't know that there's a great deal of support within the league for the old Coliseum as being the site for a new stadium, but that could change. They're out there campaigning. I don't know if they're getting a lot of attention."

The league has been talking with Roski's group since May about returning to the nation's second-largest television market. But with some owners wary about the unsavory reputation of the neighborhood surrounding the Coliseum, Tagliabue said it might be time to look for other suitors.

"We discussed whether that's something we should look at on an exclusive basis or whether we should look at alternatives," Tagliabue said.

The Los Angeles area has been without an NFL team since the Anaheim-based Rams and the Coliseum-based Raiders both moved following the 1994 season.

The owners also talked about the attendance problem in Memphis, where only 17,000 people have showed up for the past two Oilers games. That problem is expected to fix itself in two years when a new stadium is completed at the team's permanent home, Nashville.