In AFC, a division of opinion is brewing Owners to discuss plan for 4 groups of 4 teams

October 13, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

A realignment plan that would take Jacksonville and Tennessee out of the Ravens' division when the new Cleveland Browns enter it next year will be discussed by the owners later this month, but it probably has little chance of passing.

The plan, advocated by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, would create four four-team AFC divisions when the expansion Cleveland team enters the AFC Central.

It would shift only four teams to create a new division, taking one team each from the AFC East and West to join Jacksonville and Tennessee. Miami would leave the AFC East and would have a geographical rivalry with Jacksonville.

The problem is getting a team to leave the AFC West. Rooney proposes Seattle, based on the idea that the Seahawks were "the last in and the first out." Seattle joined the league as an expansion team in 1976. The other four AFC West teams were part of the AFL when it was created in 1960.

Rooney said his plan "is as simple as you can get." But it's unlikely the owners will vote to approve the plan when they meet later this month in Kansas City, Mo.

There would be objections to pitting Seattle with the three southern teams.

"It's an absurdity," said Ravens owner Art Modell. "It makes no sense. It's like having Atlanta in the NFC West."

Also, commissioner Paul Tagliabue is likely to fight it. He said Sunday that the league is likely to create a six-team AFC Central by simply adding Cleveland.

"I think that makes the most sense," Tagliabue said.

Any other plan besides having Seattle join the three southern teams would be even more convoluted and less likely to pass.

On CBS' pre-game show Sunday, Mike Lombardi, a former Browns executive, proposed moving the Ravens to the AFC East, Indianapolis to the AFC Central and Kansas City to a new southern division with Miami, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

However, the owners likely would never agree to that much movement.

Tagliabue said when the league goes to 32 teams by adding Houston or Los Angeles, there would be the potential of four four-team divisions in each conference.

But the more likely scenario is that the league will have two six-team divisions and four five-team divisions because the owners can never agree on a plan.

The problem with this scenario is that the teams in six-team divisions would play 10 of their 16 games against each other. For example, the Ravens' schedule would feature 10 games against the Steelers, Jaguars, Browns, Oilers and Bengals.

Unless the clubs in the six-team divisions do a lot of complaining, realignment to eight four-team divisions will remain on the drawing board.

"It won't happen for a long time. There are too many entrenched positions," Modell said. "Instant replay has a better chance."

Realignment has never been easy.

When the current NFC alignment was created after the 1970 merger, the owners finally ended a stalemate by putting five plans into a hat and having a secretary draw out the format.

Rooney's plan

The AFC realignment plan advocated by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney:

East .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Central

Buffalo .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Ravens

Indianapolis .. .. .. .. .. .. Cincinnati

New England .. .. .. .. .. ... Cleveland

New York Jets .. .. .. .. .. . Pittsburgh

South .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... West

Jacksonville .. .. .. .. .. .. Denver

Miami .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... Kansas City

Seattle .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Oakland

Tennessee .. .. . .. .. .. ... San Diego

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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