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A two-horse race for the NFL in L.A.

SCHAUMBERG, Ill. -- NFL owners assembled in the deep suburbs of Chicago on Tuesday to hear an update on their next biggest project -- figuring out whether the NFL will return to Los Angeles.

Going to the suburbs was a good idea. The setting at the Hyatt in Schaumburg, Illinois, was quiet and out of the way of a deluge of television cameras and reporters, and the location was virtually unknown to fans of the Rams, Raiders and Chargers -- fans who could lose their football teams in part based on the discussions taking place here. Tuesday was a day of information and brainstorming.

Nothing was finalized, but plenty was done to move the Los Angeles project forward, and the general feeling coming out of the day was that Los Angeles should get something -- a team -- by next year. Moving to the suburbs was the equivalent of taking two thoroughbred racehorses to the farm to prepare them for the race. It's a two-horse race and a good one. You have Rams owner Stan Kroenke prepping his stadium project in Inglewood, California, and you have Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis presenting in depth plans to have two teams in Carson, California.

Kroenke's plan clearly gained ground Tuesday. According to multiple sources, the Carson pitch went well. What's clear, though, is neither side has the 24 votes from owners to approve the move. In fact, it's too early to start counting the votes.

It's a two-horse race, but what the league has to be pleased about is after two decades of little to no momentum to return football to Los Angeles, there are now two viable plans. It's up to the owners to pick one.

What's fascinating is that this is one of the few times in NFL history existing owners are competing for the right to build a stadium in a different city.

"It's a relatively unique circumstance where you have multiple teams interested in relocating to a market where there are two different solutions," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "And our focus on that is, if they meet the relocation policy, is to make sure we have a solution that is going to work for the long term in Los Angeles. That's the key issue for us -- making sure that whatever we ultimately decide as a membership, that we have the ability to be successful in Los Angeles for the long term. That's why we spent the last two decades trying to come up with a solution that we thought would provide that kind of a foundation."

While Kroenke gained momentum on Tuesday, he also faces an issue as the owner of two professional franchises in Denver. Rules prohibit the ownership of an NFL team in one city and sports franchises in other cities. He had a June 15 deadline to submit a plan to fix that. Goodell said Tuesday that Kroenke submitted a satisfactory plan that does comply with the rules. The Finance Committee will review it in September.

Passing that test bought Kroenke plenty of time to set the stage for the big race. Now, owners have to start handicapping it. Do they side with Kroenke, who has a great stadium plan in Inglewood but would be passing on a decent offer from the St. Louis and Missouri politicians? Or do they contribute $400 million for a Carson plan that eliminates stadium problems in Oakland and San Diego?

"It works for the NFL," said Carmen Policy, a longtime NFL team executive working on the Carson project for the Chargers and the Raiders. "It works for the L.A. market, and now it works for the two teams that are playing in the most dilapidated and terrible stadiums in the league. You have to remember, these two facilities predated Candlestick in terms of accommodating football, and Candlestick today is rubble and dust."

Policy said the Carson stadium wouldn't be ready for 2019. That could be a factor if Kroenke has his ready by 2018.

The losers in Tuesday's meeting were the local cities vying to keep their teams. St. Louis arguably has the most attractive, workable stadium offer on the table but is dealing with a Rams owner wanting to move. San Diego improved its offer Monday by putting up more than $300 million of public money, but the burden of having a public vote caused the Chargers to criticize the proposal and say it's not acceptable.

As for Oakland, there is no there, there. The area doesn't have a stadium offer on the table, and time is running out.

"We've said one thing consistently to any of the markets that have been engaged in trying to put forth a proposal, and it really rests on a couple of pillars," said Eric Grubman, who is coordinating the league's Los Angeles project. "One of them is that a proposal has to be specific. The second is that it has to be attractive to a team. The third is it has to be actionable. And so what actionable means is it can't just be an idea to the extent that there is enabling legislation or enabling financing activities or there are litigation threats or anything of that nature -- anything that needs to be assembled in a time frame where a club can act on it.

"Thus far, those sorts of tests have not been made in Oakland, so as of yet, there is no proposal for the Raiders to consider."

By October, owners should start to pick. Dean Spanos is popular among many of the owners and has the sentimental edge. Kroenke will gain support because of the money factors. What's clear coming from this meeting is something will happen positively for getting something in Los Angeles by next year. But many things could be options. If the NFL can't secure a temporary site other than the Los Angeles Coliseum, you could see the Raiders playing three seasons in San Antonio until the Carson Stadium is built. You could even see a swap of ownership.

As of now, the momentum is there for a team in L.A., but it's a two-horse race and the outcome will be unpredictable.