- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

PHOENIX Washington fans shouldn't get their hopes up about the Redskins making an expanded 2003 postseason as the NFC's seventh playoff team.

The vote by the 32 NFL owners won't happen before this evening, but commissioner Paul Tagliabue basically declared the proposal to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams dead on arrival as the league's spring meeting officially opened yesterday.

"When we looked at realignment and the new scheduling formula [for the 2002 season], we thought it wasn't smart to expand the playoffs at that point," Tagliabue said. "I still think that's the prudent place to be. There's always support for expanding the playoffs by teams that don't make the playoffs [but] most everyone recognizes that we have the best playoff system. To get to the playoffs you have to be a good, strong team."

Tagliabue said the biggest problem with the proposal by New England and Kansas City would be in giving a bye to just one team in each conference.

"Most of the concern that I hear about our current playoff structure is that the bye coupled with home-field advantage becomes a big competitive edge that needs to be minimized," Tagliabue said. "Many clubs would view adding a seventh team in each conference and giving [only] one team a bye as moving the competitive disadvantage in the wrong direction … almost preordain the Super Bowl teams."

Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney took an even more negative line on playoff expansion.

"The regular season is sacred," Rooney said. "It's meaningful. It's not like other sports where everyone gets in the playoffs. We've got a good system and we ought to keep it. [Otherwise], you might as well start the season in December."

To address the perceived unfairness of the bye, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt would like to see 16 teams in the playoffs so that everyone would play on the opening weekend.

"We're in a sales-oriented business," Hunt said. "I don't know any business that would say, 'We've got these best four teams and we're not going to put them on television this week and we're going to be televising lesser teams.' Most sports try to feature their best teams."

Tagliabue believes there is considerable support for Cleveland's proposal to give each team at least one possession in overtime, although likely not 24 votes. He and Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay said it's possible the plan could be implemented on a one-year experimental basis.

"There's a growing feeling among ownership that too high a percentage of the games are being influenced by who wins the coin toss [59 percent last season], but the coaches seem to be preoccupied with the status quo, the notion that it's easier to deal with what we know than with what we don't know," Tagliabue said.

Tagliabue said proposals to allow coaches to keep their replay challenges if successful and to expand game-day rosters have virtually no chance of being approved. The commissioner also said he believes that despite some well-publicized complaints, the league's new workplace diversity program is "a positive step" and will work well.

The owners supported the league's decision to open the NFL Europe season as planned on April 5 despite the war in Iraq, with the players leaving from their Florida training camps today and tomorrow.

"There was a very strong consensus to go forward and play the season," Tagliabue said. "We're an American business doing business in Europe, and like any other business doing business in Europe we need to continue to operate."

Meanwhile, McKay said he wasn't upset about the Bucs becoming the first Super Bowl winner in seven years to open the defense of its title on the road. The NFL announced that Tampa Bay will be the visitor as NFC runner-up Philadelphia opens its new stadium on "Monday Night Football."

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