Column: Even King Solomon couldn’t get Goodell off the hook
Counting the decade before he became commissioner, Roger Goodell has been working to put an NFL franchise back in Los Angeles and inside a new stadium for as long as it took 100,000 slave laborers to build the Great Pyramid of Giza.
So how's the construction project going?
Funny you should ask.
The hot-button issue of Goodell's tenure as commissioner is finally front and center as the league's 32 teams meet Wednesday in Dallas – but only because a trio of owners forced his hand. The St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders want to relocate to Los Angeles in time to usher in the 2016 season, and they want deadlines set before they depart Dallas to decide the issue by the time the Super Bowl rolls around. A vote later than that likely puts off any move to Los Angeles until 2017.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants to build and largely finance his stadium on a site he owns in Inglewood. Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders boss Mark Davis plan to share and also bear most of the costs for a stadium at a site they own just down the road in Carson. The competing bids have already divided the league's owners like few issues before. Neither side can likely muster the two-thirds majority of owners – 24 – needed for approval. Both, however, appear to have enough votes to block the other.
The stalemate has already damaged the three teams trying to leave and efforts by the cities trying to keep them. At the moment, King Solomon couldn't craft a solution to make them all whole again. Worse, the owners might just do what they've done every other time someone inquired about the ''NFL vacancy'' sign hanging in the nation's second-largest market for the last 20 years: Schedule another meeting and continue counting their money.
So despite the millions spent on those campaigns to date, any one of the franchises, or all three, could leave the meetings empty-handed and find an even-angrier fan base awaiting their return.
At this point, it's fair to ask how we got here.
Goodell was tasked by his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, with finding a replacement for Los Angeles shortly after the Raiders and Rams (then based in Anaheim) both played their last regular-season games there on Christmas Eve, 1994. Plenty happened in the interim; none of it resulted in one shovel of dirt being overturned so far.
Goodell became commissioner in 2006 and eventually handed off the Los Angeles project to aide Eric Grubman. Proposals to develop a handful of sites from a range of deep-pocketed developers came and went. The league nixed them all, in large part because cities in California repeatedly refused to add sizeable public subsidies to the mix, even as the league was blackmailing other cities across the NFL map into doing just that.
A decade ago, a reputable study found the average NFL stadium received 65 percent of its funding from the public, and the league didn't want to set a dangerous precedent. And for a while, using the L.A. market as a stalking horse worked to perfection.
In the two decades since the NFL left town, 28 of the league's 32 teams have either put up new stadiums or completed significant renovations on old ones. An informal count by the Los Angeles Times tallied up 18 instances where owners like Robert Irsay of the Colts and Ziggy Wilf of the Vikings parked their private jets – conspicuous by the giant team logos painted on the side – at L.A.-area airports as implied threats to move there, while they wrung concessions for better stadium deals from taxpayers back home. What's different now is that the battle for L.A. has become an intramural struggle.
The York family, which owns the San Francisco 49ers, was the first to ''crack the DaVinci code'' – as one observer put it – and showed their brethren the way. They built a gleaming new $1.2 billion palace in Santa Clara with just $70 million in public subsidies, offsetting the construction costs through a combination of factors – low-cost loans, personal seat licenses, sponsorships, etc.
Now, the Rams and the Chargers-Raiders combo are demanding the chance to take a similar risk, and that's in addition to ponying up a relocation fee between $500-600 million. Whichever side eventually loses the fight – and depending on which scenario you believe, there could be one, two or zero teams in the Los Angeles by this time next year – won't go back home and just fold their hands.
Nothing will be settled on the cheap. Nothing less than the future financial health of the NFL is hanging in the balance.
So never mind the previous screw-ups of Goodell's not-so-distinguished reign: ''Deflategate,'' ''Bountygate'' and ''Spygate,'' as well as his bungling of domestic-abuse cases involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy. If he gets this decision wrong, those don't even make the first paragraph of his professional obit.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.