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NFL Considers Expanding Playoffs

Updated:
BALTIMORE (AP) — The NFL playoffs might soon go the way of the NCAA basketball tournament.

League owners are considering expanding the playoff field to 14 teams and using a seeding system that would make it easier for stronger clubs to advance to the Super Bowl.

The change would occur in 2002, when Houston becomes the NFL's 32nd member and the league switches to eight four-team divisions. Playoff teams would be seeded according to their record.

It's not unlike the NCAA tournament, which is designed to match the best teams against the lower qualifiers.

The top seed in each conference would get a first-round bye, while the team with the second-best record plays the seventh-best team, the third-best faces the sixth-best, and so on.

The change was discussed Tuesday and Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings.

Under the current format, 12 teams make the playoffs. Wild-card entrants, regardless of their record, must play on the road against division winners.

``There's a pretty good consensus behind the idea of adding two teams to the playoffs,'' NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Wednesday. ``We would add two games the first week. Linked to that is seeding. There's a lot of interest in that.''

The new system would force a team that already clinched a division to continue to try to win.

``If a team can lose the home-field advantage even though they were a division winner under the seeding formula, then the last game becomes critical,'' Tagliabue said.

A final vote probably will be taken in October.

``We didn't get a consensus, but the fact that we were discussing seeding was an important development,'' Tagliabue said.

Dallas and Detroit made the playoffs with a 8-8 records in 1999, and some owners are worried that a losing team can qualify for a postseason that includes 14 teams.

``I think 12 is enough,'' Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said. ``We have to keep the sanctity of the game intact. I want teams that deserve to be in there.''

The 2002 schedule is the first step toward realignment. Tagliabue said keeping matchups such as the Jets-Giants and Redskins-Cowboys would be considered at the proper time.

``You wouldn't want to upset traditional rivalries, but we haven't focused on that. We spent a lot of time on the scheduling formula and not a lot of time on realignment,'' Tagliabue said.

The other major issue was player conduct. On the same day that testimony began in the murder trial of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, the owners on Tuesday approved an expanded version of the current conduct policy, and Tagliabue said the NFL will be aggressive in punishing players who violate the rules.

``There will be suspensions, in the appropriate circumstances, for off-field misconduct,'' he said. ``We're not going to overreact, but we want to make it clear that players can forfeit their right to play if they engage in off-field misconduct.''

The owners also:

— formed a four-member committee to keep them abreast of business issues.

— approved $50 million in league funds for construction of a stadium in Seattle and $100 million for a similar project in Detroit.

— considered proposals to hold the Super Bowl in Houston in January 2004 and in Detroit in 2006. Atlanta, Miami, Oakland and Jacksonville will make presentations this fall for the 2005 game.
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