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Archive for Wednesday, May 23, 2001

NFL approves realignment for 2002

Changes create eight four-team divisions; Chiefs staying in AFC West

May 23, 2001

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— The NFL realigned itself quickly and amicably Tuesday, skipping the squabbling of the past and leaving even the uprooted teams saying they were satisfied.

Five of the new divisions will have basically the same makeup, and the most drastic step is moving Seattle from the AFC West to the NFC West.

"We couldn't look at personal choices," said Dan Rooney, president of Pittsburgh, which shifted to the AFC when the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. "A lot of people wanted a lot of things. I think this is best for everyone."

What was best for the league, as it turned out, was a relatively painless shift to eight four-team divisions for 2002, when Houston will rejoin the league as an expansion franchise in the same division as Tennessee, which left Houston after the 1996 season.

The Seahawks made a token argument against the shift but said afterward they were delighted. They must have been the vote was unanimous.

"I think it's really good for the league," Seattle president Bob Whitsitt said. "It's also good for the Seahawks."

The new format is the one that was considered the most likely when the NFL announced almost two years ago that it would realign into eight divisions from the current six.

Five of the new divisions will have all four teams from the old alignment and another will have three the new NFC South, which contains three teams from the old NFC West. Each conference will have a North, South, East and West division, and most of the divisions are relatively compact geographically, unlike the old lineup, which had Arizona in the East and Atlanta and Carolina in the West.

Next to Seattle, the team most affected may be the Cardinals, who move out the same division with Dallas, the only team to draw capacity crowds in the desert. Arizona owner Bill Bidwill fought to stay in the same division with the Cowboys but said he was happy after the league agreed to a new scheduling format for exhibition games that will retain old rivalries.

The Houston-Tennessee matchup wasn't a surprise, particularly since Baltimore, which left Cleveland in 1995, has been in the same division as the expansion Browns and will continue to be paired with them.

Bidwill was even happier after Dallas owner Jerry Jones said he would be glad to play the Cardinals in an exhibition game every year they aren't scheduled to play in the regular season.

Whitsitt said the Seahawks will have preseason games against the Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders, whom they've met in the regular season so often.

Another plus for most of the owners is the new scheduling format, under which every team will meet every other at least once in four years. There will be six home-and-home divisional games; four against teams in another division within a conference; and four more against a division in the other conference on a rotating basis.

The exact format for the playoffs hasn't been decided yet. For the time being, the number of teams will stay at six from each conference the four division winners and two wild cards.

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