ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Important late-season NFL games this season might be switched from Sunday afternoon to Monday night to attract more viewers.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Monday the 2002 schedule, expected to be released in the next week or two, probably will allow one Sunday game in each of the last four weeks to be moved to Monday night. Any changes would be decided at least four weeks in advance.
The new plan must still be signed off on by Fox and CBS, although Tagliabue can unilaterally approve it for the NFL.
``We are surprised to hear of this through the press, since our executives met with the commissioner socially last night, and he didn't mention it,'' Fox Sports VP Lou D'Ermilio said. ``That said, we look forward to hearing from the NFL with great interest.''
A CBS spokesperson wouldn't comment Monday.
In the past, Fox has indicated a strong opposition to such a proposal.
Fox and CBS probably would ask for something in return for agreeing to give ABC first choice late in the season _ cash, perhaps, or a return of limited in-game sponsorship.
``We will ensure that there will be attractive games in all the time slots on Sunday and on Monday nights,'' Tagliabue said. ``I think we can make it a win-win situation. We would make sure that CBS and Fox both have strong programming late in the season.''
The switch has been sought by ABC's ``Monday Night Football'' for years because of the unpredictability free agency and the salary cap have brought to the NFL.
Two seasons ago, for example, neither Super Bowl team _ the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants _ had a Monday night game. New England, the current NFL champion, was not on Monday night last year.
At the other end of the spectrum, the final Monday night game of the 2000 season was a 31-0 victory by Tennessee over Dallas. The Cowboys were expected to be strong that season, but finished 5-11.
There also was a Monday night game late that season between New England, which finished 5-11, and Kansas City, which was 7-9.
The games to be switched would have to be consistent with the two networks that carry Sunday games.
For example, if the Monday night game to be switched would wind up on Fox _ say, Washington-San Francisco _ the game switched to Monday night would also be on Fox. If the Monday night game to be dropped is a CBS game, it would be replaced by a game originally scheduled to be shown Sunday by CBS.
Historically, drawing up the NFL schedule involves dickering among the networks.
ABC, naturally, wants as attractive games as possible for Monday night, and the other two broadcast networks want to keep their good games, particularly for the late afternoon time slot. For the last several seasons, ABC has been requesting more flexibility because of the difficult task of predicting the strength of teams when the schedule is released in the spring.
Tagliabue also said the NFL would probably not decide until the fall or next year about playing an outside Super Bowl in a Northern city. The commissioner has said he would like the 2007 Super Bowl, the next to be awarded, to be played in New York or Washington, sites of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
However, he noted the league also has promised to make its best effort to bring the game to other sites, such as Arizona, which presumably will have a new stadium built by then.
And while Tagliabue didn't say it, there didn't appear to be the 24 votes necessary to lift the rule that prohibits Super Bowls in places where the mean temperature in January or February is below 50 degrees.
Others, however, did.
Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson said he was against the idea. And Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney said: ``At this point, I don't think the southern cities will vote for it.''
As he always does, Tagliabue was upbeat in his ``State of the League'' address to the owners.
He said he wasn't concerned about the release of many star players caused by the salary cap.
``People tend to overlook age,'' he said. ``Look at who has been released: old players. Everyone gets old. It's even happening to Michael Jordan.''
In other developments, the competition committee discussed nine changes in the rules, most of them minor, such as starting the clock on kickoffs when the ball is touched _ something currently done only in the last two minutes of halves.
It also recommended the clock not be stopped on a sack in the last two minutes to reward defenses for making good plays. Under current rules, the clock stops for five seconds on a sack.
It also seemed apparent the owners would retain the ``tuck rule'' that became an issue in New England's overtime playoff win over Oakland. In that game, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was ruled first to have fumbled inside the last two minutes, a call reversed when replays showed Brady had not completely tucked away the ball.
``That rule has always been there,'' said Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the committee. ``The league has always favored loss of down over loss of ball.''