Steelers change is inevitable

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It's normal to be apprehensive about a potential sale of the Steelers taking control of the team out of Rooney hands for the first time in more than 75 years. No one likes change. We fear change. The Rooneys haven't always been regarded as terrific owners; if they had a nickel for every time someone called them cheap over the years -- unjustly, by the way -- they'd be new millionaires many times over. But they are our team's owners, right? Who wants to see someone come in from the outside? The new man might be a lot worse.

Perfectly logical thinking.

Logical, but not necessarily rational.

Change doesn't have to be bad.

Sometimes, change even can be better.

It's still nice to think the best solution to the Steelers' ownership dilemma is for Dan Rooney to put together enough investors to buy out his four brothers, who are looking at selling their shares because of the NFL's insistence that they divest their gambling interests at the family racetracks and fears of the inheritance tax laws. That would bring new money and fresh voices into the organization while leaving Dan Rooney in charge. He has been maybe the best owner in sports for more than 20 years, has incredible clout in the NFL and is in the Hall of Fame for good reason. There always will be a sense that all is right with the franchise and, therefore, our world as long as he has control.

Unfortunately, Rooney won't be around forever -- with or without the Steelers. He turned 76 on July 20. He wants to keep the team for his oldest son, Art II, whom he made team president in 2002 and gave considerable power. But it's too soon to judge how Rooney II will be as an owner. He might turn out to be great. Or, without his father's guidance, maybe not.

There's just as much of an unknown there as there would be if the four Rooney brothers sold to an outside party, most likely New York hedge fund billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller -- chairman of Pittsburgh's Duquesne Capital Management -- at this point.

There is at least one good reason to think a Druckenmiller ownership could be a positive.

The man's enormous wealth.

Let's face it, the owners of pro sports teams are becoming a billionaires' club, not a millionaires' club. That's why single-family owners such as the Rooneys are becoming largely extinct. Certainly, the Rooneys figure to have a more difficult time competing in a small, declining market in the years ahead. It was just last month that the Wall Street Journal referred to them as a "Mom and Pop operation."

The going will get especially rough if the NFL goes the way of Major League Baseball. There has been some speculation that the NFL will lose its salary cap and start having to pay guaranteed contracts. If it happens, it's not hard to imagine a scenario where the Steelers become the Pirates.

Heaven forbid.

Druckenmiller could prevent that from happening.

We've seen the impact a billionaire can have on one of our sports teams. It's fair to say Mario Lemieux wouldn't have been able to bring the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999 without California billionaire Ron Burkle's financial strength behind him as his co-owner. It was Burkle who gave the franchise stability and credibility and carried it through some very dark days as the NHL sorted out its financial chaos a few years ago. And it is Burkle who enabled the Penguins to feel comfortable taking on some new debt this summer before their new arena is done in 2010 in order to keep the bulk of their Stanley Cup-contending team together by signing Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Brooks Orpik to long-term deals.

Give me a billionaire as the owner of my team any day.

I'll take my chances with a savvy businessman who is wise to the tricky economic ways of the modern world.

I know what you are going to say: Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder are billionaires and they don't win in the NFL.

Jones is a bad example because his Dallas Cowboys have won three Super Bowls even if they haven't won a playoff game in 12 years. Surely, the Cowboys will win more Super Bowls, especially after their new $1 billion-plus palatial stadium opens next season and makes Heinz Field look like a low-revenue-producing shack.

Snyder, on the other hand, has been a disaster as the owner of the Washington Redskins. But you know what? He'll keep pouring money into his team until he gets it right. It will be a lot easier for him if the NFL, like baseball, divides itself into the haves and have-nots.

So go ahead and root for Dan Rooney to come away with the Steelers when all this sale business is done. I'm rooting for him and his kid, too, as long as they get the right investors. All I'm telling you is that you shouldn't fear change if it happens. That's the only healthy attitude to have, if you really think about it.

You know the harsh truth of life as well as I do.

Nothing lasts forever.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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