Seven months ago, the NFL said it hoped to decide on a Los Angeles stadium site by May 2005 and wanted to have a team there for the 2008 season.
However, in an interview last week with The Times, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that league executives probably would need more time to narrow the stadium options, something that almost certainly would delay the 2008 starting date.
"There are some things that have to get done in the next six months that conceivably might not get done in the next six months," Tagliabue said. "It might take more like nine to 12 months. In that event, we could be pushed back into the fall of next year. But certainly our goal is to get some decisions made in May of '05."
Tagliabue said he had always considered the 2008 target date "a bit aggressive," even though he said it was important to set ambitious goals in bringing the NFL back to the nation's second-largest market. There are four known competing stadium concepts: the Coliseum, Rose Bowl, Carson and Anaheim.
"Everyone is anxious to keep this a top priority and make it an urgent priority," he said. "So setting out an earlier goal, I think, was the smart thing to do, the appropriate thing to do. A three-year timeline from initial decisions on the selection of a stadium site to a team on the field is a pretty tight timeline, especially in this circumstance where you've got the challenge of selecting a team as well as building a stadium."
Although Tagliabue declined to detail the specific strengths and weaknesses of each stadium proposal, several sources familiar with the league's position on the sites say the Coliseum and Anaheim are in the lead, followed by the Rose Bowl, then Carson.
"None of these sites in the Los Angeles area are easy sites, either in terms of the surrounding area, or the environmental elements, or the historic-preservation and civic-design elements," he said. "They all have some complexities. So I think a three-year timeline [for choosing a site and building a stadium] is doable, but it's aggressive."
A more generous timeline could help the Rose Bowl and Carson while negating the edge held by the Coliseum and Anaheim, which already have completed the year-long process of getting environmental-impact reports certified.
But L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks said the Coliseum had a distinct advantage and could be selected as the preferred site even before NFL owners convened for their May meeting. Last spring, the league presented the Coliseum with a "term sheet," the framework of a potential lease deal.
"The ball's in our court," said Parks, a member of the Coliseum Commission. "That's why we're working so diligently on that term sheet."
He added: "I don't feel that we're too far apart."
Parks said Coliseum officials had submitted their latest version of a lease to the NFL and expected a response in January. So far, he said, there were no "deal-killers" in the league's proposal, which to this point has remained confidential. He said he and others on the Coliseum Commission had gotten assurances from the league that their stadium would work, provided the sides could agree on lease terms.
"If we don't resolve the issues in the term sheet, then, yes, we could be into May and beyond," Parks said. "But if we resolve the issues, then they've said clearly there's no need to look at other sites."
According to NFL sources, however, it's unlikely the league would move that quickly to dismiss other options. It has a record of keeping its options open, both with competing cities and stadium sites, in order to strike the most favorable deal.
In August, the NFL announced it had approached Anaheim officials about possibly building a football-only stadium next to Angel Stadium, where the Rams played. Among the benefits of constructing a stadium there are excellent freeway access, the relative wealth of the Orange County market, and the city's environmental-impact report approved for a 70,500-seat stadium.
Although many people argue that putting a team in Orange County is not the same as putting one in L.A. -- an argument that carries weight with the NFL -- Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle insists his city can better serve the needs of the region's football fans. The city "is certainly firmly in the center of the Los Angeles market," he said in August. "That is, I think, the bigger picture."
When informed of Tagliabue's comments about possibly moving back the timeline, Anaheim spokesman John Nicoletti indicated that wouldn't be a problem for his city's proposal.
"We will be ready to move forward when they are ready," Nicoletti said in a written statement, "at whatever pace is necessary to ensure they build a state-of-art stadium that results in a net-positive impact to Anaheim residents and businesses."
David Carter, a USC professor and sports economist recently hired by Anaheim as a consultant, said he was not surprised the league might push back its original deadlines.