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NFL Agrees on 2002 Schedule

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ATLANTA (AP) — The NFL agreed to a schedule for 2002, then moved on to the high-profile business of doling out Super Bowl sites.

Carmen Policy will have to wait.

The NFL owners, meeting Tuesday at a downtown Atlanta hotel, once again skirted the issue of whether Policy violated the salary cap while he ran the San Francisco 49ers.

It won't be addressed Wednesday, either, as owners wrap up their three-day fall meeting by awarding three more Super Bowls.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said there are major differences between Policy and the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, who were fined and stripped of five first-round draft picks for secret deals to skirt their league's salary cap.

``In the NBA case, it was open and shut,'' Tagliabue said. ``We don't have anything like that.''

The commissioner said a ruling on Policy's actions would be linked with the NFL's broader efforts to eliminate loopholes in the salary cap. No decision will be made in Atlanta.

Policy, now president of the Cleveland Browns, maintains he did nothing wrong, though he concedes others might have a different interpretation of his actions.

He said comparing his troubles to the NBA case is ``like looking at the difference between speeding and premeditated murder.''

The major decision Tuesday was unanimous approval of a new scheduling formula when the league expands to 32 teams with the Houston Texans in 2002.

The league will abandon its current six-division alignment and go to eight four-team divisions — four in each conference.

Under the new format, each team will play six games within its division (home-and-away against the other three teams), four games against another division within its conference, four games against a division in the other conference and two games within the conference based on the previous year's standings.

Those final two games were the main sticking point, with some owners wanting to preserve them for traditional or regional rivalries after realignment.

Tagliabue said that wouldn't work out.

``The concept of natural rivalries breaks down about halfway through the league, no matter how you define natural rivalries,'' he said.

Instead, a first-place team would play the other two first-place teams from its conference that are not already on the schedule, a second-place team would play the other two second-place teams, etc.

The commissioner said the league hopes to reach agreement on realignment by its March meeting. He stressed that no teams will receive financial compensation for moving to a new conference or division.

In other action, the owners voted to loan the Chicago Bears about $100 million for renovation of 76-year-old Soldier Field, part of a leaguewide program to help teams upgrade stadiums or build new ones.

The major issue at Wednesday's final session was picking the Super Bowl cities for 2004-06.

Houston was the only bidder for 2004, while Detroit was the lone contender for 2006. But both cities must show they can meet the NFL's requirements for hotel rooms and other amenities.

Miami, Jacksonville and Oakland were bidding for 2005. Miami has played host to eight Super Bowls already, while Jacksonville hoped its plan to bring in cruise ships for extra hotel space would persuade the owners to come to a new city. Oakland was given little chance of winning.

The claims against Policy stem from his eight-year tenure as president and CEO of the San Francisco 49ers.

He built a reputation as one of the league's brightest front-office executives. But, in keeping the 49ers on top, he was accused of bending the NFL's salary-cap rules, especially during the 1997 season.

The league's management council has spent the past year reviewing the contracts of former San Francisco quarterback Steve Young, tight end Brent Jones and QB Jim Druckenmiller.

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis called for Policy to receive a one-year suspension, saying it wouldn't be enough for Tagliabue to impose a hefty fine.

``We're dealing with the credibility of the league on the field,'' Davis said. ``The punishment should be swift and severe.''

Normally, Davis' opinions don't carry much weight in a league where he is viewed as a pariah by most of his fellow owners.

But his stand against Policy and Dwight Clark, who worked with Policy in San Francisco and now in Cleveland, has put Davis in an unusual alliance. Old-guard owners such as Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney, Wellington Mara of the New York Giants and Art Modell of the Baltimore Ravens also want Tagliabue to take action.

The commissioner said he has talked with his NBA counterpart, David Stern, who came down hard on the Timberwolves for their secret financial agreement with Joe Smith.

Stern fined Wolves owner Glen Taylor $3.5 million and stripped the team of five first-round draft picks. Stern also voided Smith's contract and could suspend Taylor and anyone in the organization who knew about the secret deal.

``We know it's there,'' Rooney said of the Stern ruling. ``We can't close our eyes to it.''



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