End of discussion
Seattle moved to NFC in approved realignment plan
Updated: Tuesday May 22, 2001 4:18 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Ending 18 months of deliberations and years of consideration, the NFL on Tuesday approved a divisional realignment plan for the 2002 season.
In a unanimous vote, NFL owners adopted a format that reassigned 11 teams within the league's new eight divisions. The plan that was put in place was the so-called Option A1, which had been considered the favored choice almost from the outset. There was very little debate Tuesday, the beginning of the owners' annual spring meeting
"I think everyone realized that everything that could be said had been said," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.
June 1 was the deadline for having the new 32-team, eight-division alignment set.
Under the new format, Seattle is the only team to switch conferences. The Seahawks are moving from the AFC West to the NFC West, where they were assigned for their expansion season of 1976. Seattle played one year in the NFC before switching in 1977.
"I think it's really good for the league," Seattle president Bob Whitsitt said. "It's also good for the Seahawks."
Five of the eight four-team divisions feature either three or four teams that have historically been division rivals.
Option A1 includes the newly created NFC South -- Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay -- and also moves Arizona from the NFC East to the NFC West.
In the AFC, expansion franchise Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee comprise the new South division, with Baltimore joining traditional AFC Central rivals Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
"We couldn't look at personal choices," said Dan Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who 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."
The new division alignment creates three enticing old vs. new rivalries: Arizona-St. Louis, Tennessee-Houston and Baltimore-Cleveland. Of course, the Cardinals left St. Louis, the Titans relocated from Houston and Baltimore moved from Cleveland.
"This sure was a lot easier than the last time we did this, and certainly less dramatic," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "This is what we wanted for our team and our fans.
"I think it's the best possible format for Baltimore fans and the NFL."
The last realignment, in 1970, was difficult because three teams had to move from the NFL to the AFL in an era when there was less harmony. This change, based primarily on geography, wasn't as contentious.
Because Houston, an original AFL city, has been promised a spot in the AFC, one AFC team had to move to the NFC. That turned out to be Seattle, although San Diego also was considered.
Under the new scheduling format, 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 final two games will be against conference teams based on the previous year's standings - first against first, second against second, and so on. 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. Tagliabue has said the league will consider expanding the number of playoff teams to 14.
The league also will not set exhibition games except for the last one in an effort to preserve rivalries. Tagliabue said, for example, that Dallas would play Arizona, which had its largest draws against the Cowboys.
Arizona owner Bill Bidwill fought hard 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.
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.
"I'm very happy that Jerry agreed to do that," Bidwill said. "The NFC West fits for us geographically."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.