NFL puts off call on realignment until May

No decision expected this week

rule change on assistants also on hold

Pro Football

March 22, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

At next week's annual NFL meetings, the biggest news will be the lack of news.

The NFL announced yesterday that its two hottest topics - league-wide realignment and the interview process for assistant coaches - won't be on the voting agenda in Palm Desert, Calif.

In the first major realignment in three decades, the NFL will divide into eight divisions of four teams each when the expansion Houston Texans join in 2002. The owners will discuss the 30-plus proposals on the shifting of teams next week, but the final vote probably will be saved until their Chicago meetings on May 22-23.

"I think it's safe to say that there will be no vote on realignment at this meeting," said Roger Goodell, the NFL executive vice president, who is in charge of realignment. "I think our focus at this point is to try to narrow down the number of plans to a handful."

The Ravens gave up their vote as part of their relocation agreement. The St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans and Texans also have no votes.

There are proposals being discussed that have the Ravens anywhere from the AFC East to AFC Central to AFC South.

"I have no real position," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "I will take it any way it comes. All I know for sure is we're not moving across conference lines."

Since the Ravens and Titans are without votes, there has been speculation about placing them in a extremely formidable AFC South. The "Super Division," as it's been nicknamed, would consist of the Ravens, Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts. That would leave the AFC Central with its original cities of the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Modell acknowledged hearing that rumor.

"I wouldn't rule that out," Modell said. "I really don't care. It's a cyclical business. You're up one year and down the next year. You have to look at the total picture."

The new 16-game schedule format already has been approved. It will include home-and-home games within the division, four more games against another division in their conference and four games against a division in the other conference. The other two games will be against teams in the other two divisions in the conference based on standings.

The four division winners and two wild-card teams would advance to the playoffs.

"Right now, the general view is we would stay with 12 teams qualifying for the playoffs until we've had an opportunity to go through the system for a year or two," Goodell said.

There also won't be a vote on a proposal changing the rule that prevents assistant coaches whose teams are still alive in the playoffs from interviewing for head coaching jobs. It's a guideline that excluded Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis from consideration for virtually all head-coaching openings last season.

The proposed rule change submitted last month would allow teams to contact, interview and hire coaching candidates in the three days after the conference title games.

"I don't anticipate any vote on that issue," said George Young, the league's vice president for football operations. "We really have to talk it through. On the committee, we feel that we can't come up with the right formula to be fair on all sides. It's an ongoing process. It's not a dead issue."

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