Our Future....

Angry Pope

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NEIL HAYES: TIMES COLUMNIST

Raiders facing uncertain future


The problem with discussing the Raiders' future is where do you start? There's the future as in the upcoming season, which the Raiders hope doesn't turn into another 4-12 disaster. There's the future as it relates to Andrew Walter and the quarterback position. And there's the future as it pertains to geography, as in where will the Raiders be playing in five years?

Then there's the big, big picture: Life after Al.

The day will come when Al Davis is no longer calling the shots. The worst thing that could happen when that day comes is for everyone to be wondering, what next? Everybody, including Davis, understands that. This situation clearly calls for a game plan, and it appears one is shaping up.

Don't expect one person to dominate the entire organization the way Davis has. This is looking like a three-pronged approach, with chief executive Amy Trask running the business operation and representing the team at league meetings; Davis' son, Mark, becoming more involved with marketing and ticket sales; and coach Art Shell moving upstairs to run the football operations.

If it's a wild card you're looking for, well, that would be Mark Davis.

Al Davis' only son ran a Raiders fan club and has helped the team with marketing projects in the past, but few outsiders know much about him. His name doesn't appear in the media guide and is not listed on the team Web site, but he has taken on a more active role, expressing opinions about the business end of the organization and attending home and away games.

His father is believed to be looking to sell a minority share of the team without giving up control. He needs the money because his team soon will be last in the league in revenue. No takers so far.

Nobody can blame potential investors for balking when all they can expect in return for a multimillion-dollar investment is a dividend check, a rent-free skybox and a Raiderette calendar.

Al Davis wants to keep the team in the family. That much is known, and Mark is the obvious heir. He's not the football lifer his old man is, however, and nobody expects him to actively run the team or make football decisions.

Football operations likely will be left to Shell. The former Raiders player and coach did not sign a short-term contract. His was a lifetime deal. His agent has said it again and again, and Davis intimated as much. His job is to turn this team around and then step back to focus on player personnel.

The Raiders' future as it pertains to remaining in Oakland or moving to Los Angeles is as muddy as ever. The league has said it wants a team in L.A. in the near future. Several influential owners also have said they don't want to expand, which means an existing franchise would move to L.A.

The Raiders are both the most logical and illogical candidate.

Attendance problems may or may not be resolved now that they have regained control over ticket sales, and even if Jim Otto were to become mayor of Oakland, they're not going to get any more help from the city or Alameda County.

They have a built-in fan base in Southern California, which could be viewed as a positive or a negative given their 13 years in L.A.

The apathy of L.A. football fans has been well chronicled. Would fans be more apathetic toward a team that left Oakland to come to L.A., only to leave for Oakland and return to L.A. again? One of the two sites the league is studying is the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the tough crowds the Raiders drew scared away fans with deeper pockets.

Does the NFL want to run the risk of history repeating itself after an estimated $800 million has been invested to refurbish the Raiders' former Southern California home?

If the league wanted to move the Raiders to L.A., you can bet it would prefer Davis not call all the shots. It probably would want an owner who would aggressively market his product to fans in Southern California, for example, and Davis has never been a big believer in the concept.

Then comes the question that could make this entire exercise moot. What would prevent Mark Davis from eventually selling the team to a group that could even include Steve Young and Brent Jones? If you believe a recent Sports Illustrated article, Eddie DeBartolo and Carmen Policy are circling, ready to swoop in.

The NFL has been Al's life, but it hasn't been Mark's. Maybe he decides he wants to buy his own private island, start a rock 'n' roll band or produce his own reality television series. Guess what? Time for a new game plan. That's why Al Davis isn't the key figure in all this.

When it comes to the Raiders' future, Mark Davis is the wild card.

And possibly the trump card.
 
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