Seven realignment possibilities unveiled

Wednesday, March 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) _ Looking tired and somewhat distracted, commissioner Paul Tagliabue claimed that much has been accomplished in discussions of realignment at the NFL owners meetings.

No final decisions were made Tuesday, and none will be before the meetings conclude. The official balloting on the sticky issue will be done at a regularly scheduled owners meeting in late May in Chicago. Or, perhaps, at a specially convened meeting earlier that month.

But in unveiling seven of the dozen plans being discussed, Tagliabue said Tuesday's three hours of give and take were productive.

``This is the first time we've had all the clubs focused exclusively on divisional alignments,'' he said. ``Today was very important because it was the first time we had intensive discussion on just the alignments. We built a level of understanding and willingness to make decisions.''

Tagliabue said he doesn't favor any particular plan yet, but he might make the final decision. The commissioner owns four proxy votes, three surrendered by the Rams, Oilers (now Titans) and Browns (now Ravens) when they moved, plus the expansion Houston Texans, who join the league next year.

He's unsure how he might use them _ or whether he will use them at all. They could be abstentions, with just 28 teams actually voting. That would make 21 votes necessary for a plan to be approved.

If those four proxies owned by Tagliabue count, 24 of 32 votes would be needed to pass anything, and the commissioner would have the right to cast the votes for the Texans, Rams, Ravens and Titans.

Tagliabue said he was considering giving back those votes to the teams that had them. And he said if he cast the votes, it would be more likely to block a plan he doesn't like than to cast the deciding votes in favor of a plan.

One thing appears almost certain: The NFC East and Central and AFC West will retain their current cores. Most scenarios have Arizona moving out of the NFC East, Tampa leaving the NFC Central _ which will be renamed the North _ and Seattle departing the AFC West.

The Cardinals, who want to remain with the Cowboys, most likely will wind up in the NFC West, probably with Seattle switching conferences to join Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis.

South and North divisions would be instituted in both conferences. The Texans could wind up in the AFC South or AFC North.

``This has to go past personal preferences,'' Tagliabue said. ``Put aside your own personal feelings.''

That could be hard for several owners, such as the Cardinals' Bill Bidwill, whose first choice is to remain in the NFC East. Several other clubs, such as the Dolphins, who don't want to lose their home-and-home series with the Jets and Bills, want as much status quo as possible.

Bill Polian, president of the Colts, said he was willing to go anywhere the owners decide.

``We'll do what's good for the league,'' he said.

Many team executives believe a three-year replay plan would be good for the league, but a one-year proposal also is on the table if the longer concept is defeated.

``I've learned to make no predictions on replay,'' said Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee that makes recommendations on rules changes.

McKay said several proposals were presented for revamping how players are deactivated for games. Even the number of deactivations, currently seven, were discussed.