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NFL owners pulling no-shows at meetings

PALM DESERT, Calif. — No wonder the NFL has delayed making a decision on realignment at the current meetings. Nearly a dozen of the owners almost certainly won't be here.

Blame Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis for the absence of all those owners. His $1 billion lawsuit against the league, alleging the NFL tried to force the Raiders out of the Los Angeles market, kept commissioner Paul Tagliabue tied up with 11 days of testimony. That meant Tagliabue had little time to prepare for important league matters such as realignment and possible rules changes.

Several owners feared being issued subpoenas to testify in the case.

"You could quash that subpoena, but I don't think that would be the right thing to do," said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

But Joe Browne, the league's chief spokesman said: "The trial had an impact on the meetings, but it was because we didn't have time to prepare. And we took care of a lot of business last winter. We don't have as much to get done."

Not on hand are such elderly owners at Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Ralph Wilson of the Buffalo Bills. Also missing are the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones, the New England Patriots' Robert Kraft, the Philadelphia Eagles' Jeff Lurie, the New Orleans Saints' Tom Benson, the Tennessee Titans' Bud Adams, the Detroit Lions' William Clay Ford Jr., the Seattle Seahawks' Paul Allen and Davis.

All are represented by other team executives, whose main goal is to get more than a one-year approval of instant replay. Three years is the goal.

The league's competition committee, which met this weekend, should make the three-year recommendation to the owners by Tuesday. If approved, it would be the first time in the nearly 20 years that the NFL has been experimenting with the rule that it will be implemented for more than a year.

Using instant replay to help game officials was first installed in 1986. It lasted until 1991, when heavy criticism of how it was used and the impact it had on games — delays, officials delaying their calls or looking over their shoulders — led to its removal.

Each year, reimplementing it was defeated, usually by a close vote; a vote of three-quarters of the teams is required to employ it. It was revived two years ago with the coaches' challenge system.

Now, its supporters believe the time has come for something less temporary. Thus, the three-year proposal.

"We think we have the support to get the three-year window," Bill Polian, the president of the Indianapolis Colts and one of the members of the rules-making committee, said Sunday. "We would leave it open for change from year-to-year, but the basic structure would remain in place."

Realignment will be discussed this week and there figures to be much debate. But any decision on restructuring the NFL — with the addition of the Houston Texans in 2002, there will be 32 teams that will be aligned in eight division of four teams — won't come until May, at the earliest.