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RIGAS TO TAKE CONTROL OF SABRES

The sale of the Buffalo Sabres to John J. Rigas and the Adelphia Communications Co. has been completed and will be announced Friday, sources have told The Buffalo News.

The sale completed a long process of transfering ownership of the National Hockey League team from Niagara Frontier Limited Partnership to Rigas and his cable company. Northrup R. Knox and Robert O. Swados, who were among the original owners of the franchise, will no longer be involved with the team.

It is unknown how many other partners are leaving the group, but sources told The News many of the principal players are leaving, giving Rigas near complete ownership, perhaps as much as 90 percent.

The sale was to have been officially announced today, but the announcement was delayed due to Bills coach Marv Levy's retirement press conference.

Negotiations have been underway for months, with minority owner Rigas trying to buy out the Knox interests. After many delays, the pace picked up in the last 24 to 48 hours.

Knox and Swados both flew into Buffalo from their winter residences for discussions regarding the final agreement. Rigas, who remained in Coudersport, Pa., where Adelphia is headquartered, was in meetings most of Tuesday.

He is expected to attend the Friday announcement.

The most recent snags involved certain accounting items and the drafting of the wording of the agreement that would bind the Rigas family to their offer.

The agreement will be sent to the National Hockey League Board of Governors for approval.

Arthur Pincus, the NHL's vice president for public relations, said it's possible that the issue could come before the Governors at their meeting in Vancouver during All-Star weekend, Jan. 17-18, but it's not currently on the agenda.

"No deal has been announced, so there's no reason to have it on the agenda now," Pincus said. "It could still make it, the agenda hasn't been finalized, but nothing has to be held to that date. Approval could come from a simple vote via fax."

Pincus said that approval would be on hold until the league did its customary investigation of the new ownership group and the report is forwarded to an executive committee. He acknowledged that Rigas is known to board members because of his years of active involvement with the Sabres, but the process of review is followed "whether it's a transfer of 10 or 100 percent."

Pressure to get the deal done before midnight today came from a number of directions, including several minority shareholders who would like to be out in time to have the sale count against 1997 income tax returns.

It has been rumored for weeks that Rigas would move immediately to make major changes in management and the hockey department, but no one from the Rigas family has made any statement in that regard.

Sources close to the Rigas family maintain that radical change is not the company's usual way of doing business and that it often reviews all managers and management decisions carefully before moving to put its own people and ideas in place.

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