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Another Voice: Congress may have to reconsider NFL’s not-for-profit status if Bills try to leave

By Jeff Nixon

In exchange for granting the National Football League an anti-trust exemption necessary for the NFL-AFL merger, the late commissioner Pete Rozelle assured Congress that none of the 25 franchises involved in the merger would be moved – including Buffalo.

He said, “Professional football operations will be preserved in the 23 cities and 25 stadiums where such operations are presently being conducted. This alone is a matter of considerable public interest – to local economies, stadium authorities and consumers. Without the plan, franchise moves and/or franchise failures will occur as a matter of course within the next few years.”

However, what Rozelle promised would not happen has been happening for more than 30 years.

Teams have moved to other cities – lured by bigger markets and the construction of new stadiums that generate more money for the owners. Almost all of these stadiums were built using billions of dollars in taxpayer money.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he wants the Bills to remain in Buffalo, but the owners have the final say on that issue. It will be hard for them to say no, especially if the relocation of a team can generate more revenue for the league. Remember, the owners share revenues, so if the pie gets bigger, they all reap the benefits.

If the NFL won’t keep the promise made by Rozelle, then it’s time for Congress to step in. It holds a considerable amount of leverage because it has the power to strip the league of its not-for-profit status.

Yes, you heard right. The NFL is a not-for-profit organization because Congress gave it tax-exempt status in order to facilitate the merger of the NFL and the AFL.

I want the team to stay in Buffalo for the same reason that all fans of pro football want their teams to stay – it’s a great source of entertainment and a great source of pride for our community. If we lose the Bills, we lose a piece of our heart and soul.

Ralph Wilson always wanted the Bills to stay in Buffalo, and he showed us that by signing what some experts are calling the most ironclad stadium lease they have ever seen. Nonetheless, in just six years the lease would allow the new owner to leave for a mere $28.4 million penalty.

The NFL owners should honor the memory and legacy of Wilson by keeping the Bills where they belong – in Buffalo.

If the owners won’t stop a proposed move, then Congress needs to act.

When Sen. Charles E. Schumer is exploring and evaluating all potential options to keep the Bills in Buffalo, he needs to remind the NFL owners how they got their tax-exempt status and their anti-trust exemption – and how they can lose it.

Jeff Nixon was a free safety for the Buffalo Bills from 1979 to 1984.