Tuesday, May 22, 2001

NFL realignment to be settled this week

Bengals, Browns, Steelers still need a fourth

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NFL owners are expected to vote Wednesday on how to realign into eight divisions of four teams each.

        Seven realignment plans will be discussed today when NFL owners open their three-day spring meeting in Rosemont, Ill.

Details of the seven realignment plans
        The addition of the Houston Texans expansion franchise in 2002 as the league's 32nd team necessitates the league's first divisional reorganization since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Owners are trying to make the new divisions more geographically accurate.

        The Bengals will play in the AFC North with Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The fourth team will be either Baltimore, Houston, Tennessee or Indianapolis.

        “Baltimore is in most of the plans,” Bengals president Mike Brown said Monday from Chicago. “All of the plans have us tied in with Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and that's most important.

        “Pittsburgh wants Baltimore. I hear Cleveland wants Houston.”

        The Bengals were the first of the five non-expansion NFL teams to open stadiums since 1997 who failed to sell out their inaugural seasons in their new buildings. The Ben gals sold out only two of eight home games — against the Steelers and Browns — in their first season in Paul Brown Stadium.

        Indianapolis is only 90 miles away and, like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, would generate heavy out-of-town ticket sales.

        NFL insiders expect Baltimore to remain in the Bengals' division.

        That situation would mean current AFC Central rivals Tennessee and Jacksonville would become part of the AFC South with Houston and Indianapolis.

        MORE MEETINGS: NFL head coaches, coordinators and referees also will gather today in Rosemont, Ill., for their annual meetings. On Wednesday, about 100 NFL assistant coaches will participate in the fourth annual NFL Coaches Career Development Symposium.


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