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Michael Vick due in court July 26

RICHMOND, Va. - This much we know: Michael Vick won't be on the field when the Atlanta Falcons open training camp next Thursday. He'll be in a federal courtroom.

What happens after that was anyone's guess Wednesday, and there was no shortage of opinions.

Suspend him. Cut him. Let him play until he's proven guilty of felony charges that he sponsored a gruesome dogfighting operation.

For the time being, that's what the NFL intends to do with the star quarterback- let him play.

After consulting with the Falcons, commissioner Roger Goodell and top league officials agreed to let the legal process determine the facts.

A person with knowledge of the meeting, who requested anonymity so the case would not be influenced, said the NFL would stick to that position for the foreseeable future, despite its new personal conduct policy.

In April, Goodell suspended Tennessee's Adam 'Pacman' Jones for the 2007 season even though Jones had not been convicted of a crime. He did, however, have 10 encounters with police and five arrests since he was drafted in 2005.

The NFL players' union took the same stance as the league.

'It's unfortunate that Michael Vick is in this position, as these allegations are extremely disturbing and offensive,' the union said in a statement. 'This case is now in the hands of the judicial system, and we have to allow the legal process to run its course. However, we recognize Michael still has the right to prove his innocence. Hopefully, these allegations are untrue and Michael will be able to continue his NFL career.'

Vick and three associates must appear in Richmond next week for bond hearings and arraignments on charges contained in a detailed, 18-page indictment handed up Tuesday.

The four are accused of competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines.

The operation was named 'Bad Newz Kennels,' according to the indictment, and the dogs were housed, trained and fought at a property owned by Vick in Surry County, Va.

Conviction carries up to six years in prison, fines of $350,000 and restitution.

Among the grisly findings: Losing dogs either died in the pit or were electrocuted, drowned, hanged or shot. The indictment said purses climbed as high as $20,000 for fights.

Those and other allegations of animal abuse have already put Vick squarely in the center of strong and divided reaction.

In Atlanta, where Vick's name dwarfs all others in pro sports, about 46 percent of respondents in an overnight telephone poll conducted by Atlanta-based InsiderAdvantage think the Falcons should release Vick. About the same percentage said the team should keep him until a verdict is returned. About 8 percent of the 859 people polled had no opinion. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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