WW III On the Horizon?

Vikings owner Red McCombs upped the ante Monday in his showdown with the state and he, the Legislature and the NFL could be heading toward one of the nastiest fights in recent league memory.

Red McCombs has stated almost from the day he bought the Vikings that he needed a new stadium. As the Minnesota State Legislature prepared to adjourn Monday, he gave the legislators something to think about -- act in your next session or he will make good on this threat to move the Vikings.

McCombs has said he would consider selling the team, but VU isn't buying that concept. Why? Because we're hearing that he will continue to use San Antonio -- his hometown -- or Los Angeles as bargaining chips to drive up a sale price and, if the team is sold, it would be part of a relocation deal to L.A. If the team stays in Minnesota or moves to San Antonio, McCombs would retain control of the team.

There's a reason why NFL teams have owners for decades at a time. Regardless of how they can cry proverty, no NFL teams runs at a loss consistently. McCombs has a persuasive argument, considering that the Vikings are 30th in local revenue among the existing 31 teams and will drop another notch when Houston officially begins playing.

Key on the McCombs agenda is to pose the same threat that contraction has produced for the Minnesota Twins. Before contraction talks began, the prospect of either franchise getting a new stadium was remote, because lawmakers said the state's budget shortfall would take precedence. Suddenly the Twins moved to the front burner and got stadium approval. Now the Vikings want it to be their turn.

One of the reasons for the rush is the G-3 money (previously discussed in VU daily updates) expiring in March, 2003. If the Vikings don't have a stadium deal in place, the league will rescind the $52 million it is willing to contribute to the stadium cost. McCombs, who has offered $100 million of his own money for the stadium project, would likely end talks if that money dries up.

The biggest roadblocks now, aside from Governor Jesse Ventura once again claiming McCombs is "putting a gun to the head" of Minnesotans, will come from the league itself. As apparently the only source that remembers it, the state has a deal with the NFL not to leave Minnesota without a franchise. Pete Rozelle signed it when the Metrodome was built, giving the state justification to bond for a stadium and the Vikings a 30-year lease. That lease runs through 2011 and, if the Vikings were to relocate, breaking that lease could result in a billion-dollar lawsuit being filed by the state against McCombs and the NFL.

While McCombs has hired J.P. Morgan Securities to look into his options to sell or relocate the team -- allowing Morgan to pimp the Vikings while McCombs gives the public perception of staying above the fray -- it should be noted that if McCombs sells the team, any new owner would likely be party to the lawsuit that would surely be filed. Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commissioner member Bill Lester said Monday that his group would take any means necessary to make the Vikings live up to their lease agreement, which, in short, means litigation.

This story will continue to unfold and the question now is where the NFL will stand on this issue. The league became transitory in the 1980s and 1990s, as franchises moved from Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cleveland and Houston -- with Al Davis moving twice. The league has tightened its policy on moving franchises, but the L.A. market has been itentionally left open for relocation instead of expansion and serves as a bargaining chip for any owner looking to move.

While San Diego is clearly the top choice for relocation to Los Angeles, as long as McCombs has L.A. and his hometown of San Antonio as options, don't expect this story to die down any time soon.

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