By Tim Graham
CHAUTAUQUA -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't provide substantive new insights into the Buffalo Bills' future in Western New York. He reiterated people want the Bills to remain here, a new stadium lease is "a very high priority" and the team will be sold after Ralph Wilson dies.
Goodell met with reporters for 11 minutes this morning before a scheduled event at the Chautauqua Institution.
Goodell spoke five days after greeting the wheelchair-bound, 93-year-old Bills owner at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and with full knowledge the Bills are about to begin their final season under the current stadium lease.
"The fans need to do everything they can to support the Bills, and we're going to work hard to make sure they continue to be successful here," Goodell said. "There's no reason why they can't be.
"We have a new collective-bargaining agreement. We have revenue sharing. All those will be beneficial to making sure the team continues to be successful for years right here in Western New York, and that's where we want to see them."
When asked about a Bills succession plan, the Jamestown native didn't deliver any new information. There was no mention of the Bills possibly being held in a trust after Wilson dies or any change of heart that someone within his family would like to keep the team. No prospective owners were identified.
"The succession plan, Mr. Wilson has made it very clear that he is not going to sell the franchise while he's alive," Goodell said, "and once he passes on the franchise will be sold."
Goodell also said he was made aware Tuesday that Sen. Charles Schumer was going to hold a news conference this afternoon about the Bills' future, but the commissioner declined to share any details about what Schumer would say.
"He's one of the greatest supporters for keeping the Bills in Western New York," Goodell said of Schumer. "We always work closely together. We spoke briefly about some ideas that he had. I said that we'll continue to work with him, and we'll see how they work."
There is a sense of urgency for Erie County and the Bills to extend their Ralph Wilson Stadium lease agreement, but Goodell downplayed any ominous Los Angeles overtones.
The NFL would like to place two teams -- one AFC and one NFC -- in Los Angeles. With no plans to expand the 32-team league, teams would have to be moved there. The Bills frequently are listed as a candidate for Los Angeles.
"I don't think it has anything to do with Los Angeles as much as everybody wants the Bills to be here in Western New York, in Buffalo," Goodell said. "They want to do it in a successful way, and the lease is up.
"So it's important to get this done, to have a long-term lease that will address the short-term stadium issues and the long-term stadium issues and make sure that the team is successful here.
"I would put it as a very high priority."
Goodell also explained the NFL's G-4 program and how it might apply to the Bills' situation.
The G-4 program is designed to help teams fund stadium development by matching team contributions over $25 million. The price tag on Ralph Wilson Stadium improvements is said to be in the $200 million range.
"I encourage them to negotiate to make sure that their stadium is in the best possible condition," Goodell said. "We don't make determinations about what needs to get done to the stadium. Based on what they think the project size is and the scope of it and the funding, then the policy fits in."
Goodell was at Chautauqua Institution, where his family has owned a cottage, to participate in an "ethics of cheating" seminar with SEC commissioner Mike Slive and NBC News correspondent Luke Russert in the amphitheater.
(Photo: Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)