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It won't be the last time Pete Rozelle presides when the 28 NFL owners meet today and Thursday. But he's hoping it's the next-to-the last.

These normally are docile meetings, a get-together for cleaning up items like roster size left over from the year's principal sessions in March.

But Rozelle's surprise resignation announcement at those meetings have made these far more important -- a time to winnow down candidates from a dozen to perhaps three or four. That might allow the owners to select a commissioner by the start of the season, the date Rozelle has said he wants to leave.

"We hope we can make some real progress in getting the list down," said Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns and one of six members of the owners' screening committee. "We also want to get the process for selection set up so we can do it once we're ready."

The committee has already hired a management search firm, Heidrich and Struggles, to both recommend candidates and interview them.

But by almost all accounts, there are three men at the top of the list, headed by Jack Kemp, the former quarterback and congressman and currently the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Kemp, probably the only potential candidate who could almost surely get the 19 votes needed on the first ballot, has said he wants to stay in his cabinet job, although there are indications he could be coaxed into taking the job.

Right behind are Jim Finks, president of the New Orleans Saints and Paul Tagliabue, a partner in the Washington law firm of Covington and Burling.

Finks, 61, is one of the few team officials who has managed to make few enemies. The 48-year-old Tagliabue, a former Georgetown basketball player, has been the NFL's Washington counsel since 1980 and the point man on several major court cases, including the current antitrust suit filed by the players' union.

Other than the discussion of the commissioner selection, the most pressing new business is the selection of a site for the 26th Super Bowl. It will be played north of the Mason-Dixon line in 1992 with Seattle, Indianapolis, Pontiac, Mich., and Minneapolis the contenders.

The next two Super Bowls are in New Orleans and Tampa, Fla.

Also on the agenda will be a discussion of the new international league, which is now the World American Football League.

Tex Schramm, the former president of the Dallas Cowboys and the WAFL's new president, will report on progress to the owners. Schramm said New York is the only definite site for a franchise "because the networks want it." He said the other sites prominently mentioned -- Mexico City, Montreal, Chicago, London, Milan and Frankfurt -- were likely in what he said would be a 12-team league with six foreign teams and six in the United States.

The goal is to begin play next spring.

Philcox signs with Bengals

SYRACUSE -- Former Syracuse University quarterback Todd Philcox has signed a two-year contract with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals, according to the player's agent.

Philcox will be one of five quarterbacks in the Bengals camp and one of three rookies vying for a roster spot. Other first-year quarterbacks are Erik Wilhelm, a third-round selection from Oregon State and Bob Jean of New Hampshire, an 11th-round pick.

Ex-referee criticizes NFL

SEATTLE -- NFL referees aren't being trained by the league as well as they should be, recently resigned referee Pete Liske says.

NFL officials lack knowledge about their sport, are subjected to a faulty evaluation system and are overly concerned about justifying their actions, he said.

"Officials themselves are capable," said Liske, 46, assistant athletic director at the University of Washington.

"But they're not being trained anywhere near as well as they should be. They have the capacity and the interest -- they'd like to know more about the game. But nobody teaches them.

"In my entire six years, we never once sat down and discussed defensive coverages, offensive pass patterns, offensive blocking schemes, defensive pass rushing schemes -- all the things that have to do with the Xs and the Os of football," Liske said.

"If you know what people are trying to do, it's . . . a lot easier to make judgments about whatever happens on the field and correlate that with the rules," he added.

Sims wants new contract

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms will not play this year unless the team renegotiates his contract, his attorney said.

Simms, a no-show for the opening day of minicamp, is in the final year of a contract that reportedly will pay him $800,000 this season.

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