NFL byes to go 2 by 2 When Browns kick off in 1999, weeks off to go from beginning to end

March 25, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ORLANDO, FLA. — Clarification

In yesterday's editions, the number of NFL teams that will receive byes each week starting in 1999 was reported incorrectly. The league will add a 31st franchise in Cleveland in 1999, which means that in order to have an even number of teams playing, the NFL will be forced to have an odd number of teams off each week.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL's bye system is about to become a major headache for the teams.

Originally started to provide an extra week of games for television, the byes will be mandatory starting next year when Cleveland becomes the 31st team.

With an odd number of teams, the byes can't be bunched in the middle of the season the way they have been in recent years.

Instead, two teams will get a bye each week, which will mean two teams get byes the first week and the last as a result.

Also, four teams will play 16 weeks in a row and two more will play the first week and then have a bye the second week.

Another problem is that a playoff team could have a bye in the final week of the regular season and another bye in the first week of the playoff and go stale with two weeks off.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is turning the matter over to the competition committee for study, but he said it's likely that only fifth-place teams will get byes the final four weeks of the seasons.

The problem with that system is that fifth-place teams such as the Giants and Jets showed they can jump into the playoff race in one week.

Tagliabue, though, showed little sympathy for the teams thinking about how to deal with byes. He tried to downplay the problem, saying there will be 17 byes during the season with the other 14 bunched in the middle of the season.

"I can't defend against all contingencies and still legislate the fees," he said.

The translation is that since the owners are going to pocket a huge expansion fee, they shouldn't complain about the bye system.

But the system is likely to increase pressure to add a 32nd team sooner rather than later so the league can go back to an even number of teams.

"This is why we have to go to 32 teams as soon as possible," said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

Tagliabue has identified Los Angeles, Houston and Toronto as the top candidates for that 32nd team. The problem is that none of those cities has the financing for a new stadium. The NFL doesn't consider SkyDome -- built for a CFL game -- adequate for the NFL game, so it could be several years before the league adds another team.

The regular season isn't the only problem.

"The biggest problem is actually with the exhibition season," said Joe Ellis, the league's vice president for administration.

Because the teams set up their exhibition schedules, there will be pressure on the teams to set up their schedules as soon as possible to avoid being stuck with a bye.

When the NFL owners promised two years ago to give Cleveland a new team in 1999 as part of the agreement to allow the Browns to move to Baltimore, they assumed one of its existing 30 teams would move there.

After all, four teams -- the Rams, Browns, Raiders and Oilers -- had announced moves in a little more than a year.

What they didn't anticipate is that the shocking Browns move would prompt several cities to come up with stadium financing plans to keep their teams.

The result is that there was no logical candidate to move to Cleveland.

With the league running out of time to get the new Cleveland team up and running, the owners decided Monday -- after an emotional speech by Ravens owner Art Modell -- to approve the expansion team for Cleveland.

But that move started the teams thinking about byes.

John Beake, a front-office executive for the Denver Broncos, said, "You don't want a bye too early when you're healthy and you don't want it at the end of the season if it's going to break your momentum."

Some officials, though, are simply resigned to dealing with it.

"You can't pick up your ball and go home," Green Bay Packers coach Mike Holmgren said.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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