Teams call audibles in L.A. NFL game

Los Angeles Raiders pennantNFL fans in Los Angeles have gained a new reason to cheer. Despite strong signals just months ago that pro football wouldn’t come to L.A., some of the most important players circling the project have made bold new moves to pull it off.

Foremost among them was a surprise deal between the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders to build and share a stadium in Carson, an L.A. County municipality north of Long Beach.

But thanks to L.A.’s suddenly crowded market, and its thicket of regulations and competing interests, the biggest obstacle to forward progress could be too many players on the field.

The Chargers-Raiders deal came as a shock for several reasons. First, two competing plans for stadiums have already come close to fruition. As noted, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke had successfully converted an intended Walmart location in Inglewood into a promising stadium and mixed-use development zone.

What’s more, as Sports Illustrated reported, Inglewood’s City Council “could decide to adopt a new redevelopment plan without a public vote on the proposal. Such a plan could also forego talks about possible noise, traffic and air pollution in the area and start construction on the site in the immediate future.”

To be funded with private financing, Kroenke’s plan would make profitable use of one of L.A.’s largest undeveloped lots, without the risk of failing to land an NFL tenant.

That risk had hamstrung the other big stadium project near downtown L.A. Developer AEG’s effort to seal the deal on a downtown location had foundered on the goal line. “AEG’s land deal with the city of Los Angeles expires in April,” reported U-T San Diego’s Nick Canepa, “and isn’t likely to get an extension unless AEG gets a firm commitment from an NFL team to relocate.”

Canepa also noted, “If the Chargers were to take AEG boss Philip Anschutz up on it, they immediately would become lame duck and then relocate to the Rose Bowl or the L.A. Coliseum for the 2016 season while the new stadium is being built. AEG has everything it needs for the shovel — entitlements and lawsuits settled — except a team.”

By throwing in with the Raiders, the Chargers effectively forced a fourth down for AEG. Unable to woo either San Diego or Oakland, AEG faced the impossible task of wooing Kroenke’s Rams away from his would-be Inglewood stadium.

Fumble on the goal line?

Nevertheless, the Chargers-Raiders deal faced its own steep challenges. As ESPN reported, it appeared Kroenke could move the Rams even if the NFL opposed. (According to ESPN, the League was all but certain to side with St. Louis, which was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in order to retain the Rams.)

But the NFL has the power to scuttle the Chargers-Raiders deal because of the politics of league play. The NFL is divided into two conferences, the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. Each conference has three divisions.

The New York Giants and New York Jets currently share MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. But they play in different conferences, the Giants in the NFC East and the Jets in the AFC East.

Under NFL “interconference” rules, teams in different conferences play the teams in the other conference only once every three years.

And teams in the same conference play one another twice a year. The Chargers and Raiders play in the same division, the AFC West. So if they shared a stadium, they would play each other, at “home,” twice a year.

That, Business Insider explained, would confer on each team an “extra” home game every year — “a huge advantage over the other teams in the division and a big advantage over the rest of the AFC when it often comes down to one game deciding the two wild-card spots.”

To undo that problem, each team reportedly is willing to switch out of the AFC and into the NFC. “However,” Business Insider continued, “there is no indication that the NFL would be willing to realign. In addition, there is no indication that any team, such as a team in the NFC West, is willing to swap places and any team being asked to move will almost certainly want to be compensated for the trouble.”

In sum, Kroenke has maintained an advantage in the race for L.A., since he controls both a stadium site and the team that would play there. His St. Louis Rams also play in the NFC West, and would play alone in their own stadium. So there would be no complication involving home games shared with another team.

Yet the NFL’s willingness to bring two teams to L.A., combined with its interest in keeping the Rams in St. Louis, has given the League a reason to make a Chargers-Raiders deal work.

It’s still anyone’s game.

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