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Here's the transcript from Show 60 of Outside The Lines - Realigning the NFL

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reported by: Ed Werder, ESPN.
Guest: Art Modell, owner, Baltimore Ravens
Live update: John Clayton, ESPN.

Announcer - May 20, 2001.

Bob Ley, host - Adaptation is the key to survival.

Unidentified Male - Do or die.

Ley - The National Football League has learned from Darwin's principle.

Unidentified Male - Don't hold nothing back!

Unidentified Male - This game is not for the faint of heart.

Art Modell - It's the greatest sport in the world, and it's the job of the ownership group now to keep it the No. 1 sport.

Ley - That means this week, a vote on realignment and new divisions - the AFC North, the NFC South and one team switching conferences.

Mike Holmgren, Seattle Seahawks - I think if you ask anybody in this organization, they don't want to do it.

Ley - Fans have grown up on rivalries as large as Dallas and Washington, as personal as Brett Favre and Warren Sapp; but something has to give.

Announcer - Today on Outside The Lines - what changes, and why, are ahead this week for the NFL.

Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm insurance.

Joining us from ESPN studios - Bob Ley.

Bob Ley, host - The last time the National Football League realigned 31 years ago, the plan for the new divisions was drawn by lot out of a cut-glass vase by Pete Rozelle's secretary; and that was after Cleveland owner Art Modell broke the initial deadlock while lying in a hospital bed as he agreed to join with the Steelers and move to the new AFC.

Now, don't expect any such folk tales out of the NFL meeting that begins Tuesday in Chicago, but there will be a decision on a new league order come the 2002 season. At a time the NBA has legalized the zone defense and Major League Baseball says it's considering shutting down struggling franchises, it might appear the NFL is dabbling at the margins.

But this league that has mastered television and the creation of a mystique has been methodical in marshalling the political and financial momentum to redraw its map without undoing any history.

Some things are beyond votes and reproach; immune from tinkering and attempts at improvement - things such as the Cowboys against the Redskins, the fury and history between the Chiefs and Raiders, the images summoned by the Bears and Vikings. Such rivalries are the cultural lifeblood of the National Football League. They are also off the table as the vote nears.

But Arizona's annual home dates with Dallas swelling the Cards' attendance by 25,000 extra fans -- they're on the endangered list. As well as Tampa's annual invasion by sun-seeking fans of Northern Division opponents.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, citing census data to document the growth of the Sun Belt, has floated 30 different plans. Realignment can give rise to a geometric jungle of concerns and sensitivities - Should the Colts be in a division with Baltimore? Wistful geographic dreams - the Jets and Giants rendered impossible by TV contracts.

Consider one owner's wish list in Jacksonville:

Wayne Weaver, Jaguars owner - If you just deal with the AFC Central, you've got a six-team -- it's the only six-team division that, if you were to split that in half and let each have three of their previous rivals and then take market size and let that be a fairness test in terms of market size in television households, that we would end up with, maybe Tennessee, Baltimore and Houston. Which we would like very much. Whether we'll get that is another question.

Ley - Probably not, if what the league indicates is the leading plan carries the day.

The rebirth of the Cleveland Browns gave the AFC 16 teams, 15 still in the NFC. With the Houston Texans joining the AFC in 2002, one AFC team must switch conferences -- that could well be the Seattle Seahawks -- so that each conference would have four divisions of four teams each.

Option A1 is said to be the leading plan, under which the familiar rivalries of the NFC East would endure. But that geographic anomaly, the Arizona Cardinals would be moved, joining the 49ers, the Rams, and the newly arrived Seahawks.

The current NFC Central, renamed the North, would revert to the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings, the Bucs probably heading to the geographically concise NFC South, with the Falcons, Panthers and Saints.

In the AFC, the newest team in Houston, the Texans, would like to rekindle the Oilers rivalries of the AFC Central, but that's an open question.

The AFL roots live on in the East, with the Bills, Dolphins, Pats and Jets. Exit the Colts, perhaps to the AFC South, joining the Texans, Jaguars and Titans, though some may push for Baltimore here.

The Ravens may join the AFC North, the old Central, with the Bengals, Browns and Steelers, leaving the AFC West, absent the Seahawks, untouched, with AFL-era rivalries.

This realignment has already proven a breeze compared to the painful 1970 restructuring, when NFL icons, the Browns, the Steelers and the Colts agreed to join the upstart AFL in the new American Football Conference. In the present, there is the soothing balm of money. In January, NFL owners agreed to pool all visiting team gate receipts and split them evenly, echoing the league's pioneering TV revenue sharing.

That symmetry will extend to the NFL schedule, where each team will play their divisional home-in-home series as well as another division on a rotating basis in their conference, and a division, again rotating, from the other conference, plus two conference opponents based on last year's finish.

But this week's vote is not one-team, one-vote. Four franchises - the relocated Rams, Titans and Ravens, plus the expansion Texans surrendered their votes, which are now held by commissioner Tagliabue. And with the realignment options said to be favored leaving 19 teams in place, Tagliabue's votes may leave this plan just one vote from the 24 required to pass.

Ley - But as a club executive said the other day, an executive who will be in that room and part of the vote, somebody whose team will likely be moving - "When that door does finally close, all the pre-meeting predictions may evaporate."

Tell that to the Seattle Seahawks. Ed Werder reports the club and fans are mentally packing for a move that will take from them the opponent that, for 1/4 century, they have loved to hate.

Unidentified Male - Part of, like, being like a Raider-hater is it's like, you know, our parents are like Raider-haters and it's like in our blood, you know.

Ed Werder - While it isn't one of the league's most storied rivalries, for 25 years the Raiders were always the best Seattle had. In the 1984 AFC championship game, the Seahawks were denied a Super Bowl appearance by the Raiders. The next season, the Seahawks eliminated the defending world champion Raiders in a wild-card playoff game.

One of the AFL's most enduring images - Bo Jackson leaving Brian Bosworth flatter than the linebacker's multicolored haircut.

Unidentified Male - That team brings out the best in your home fans, probably. You know, it's a team that they love to hate.

Unidentified Male - We sit down here when the Raiders come to town everybody's got Raider gear on, you know, tons of people that we yell at, you know, and tell them that we're going to beat them. And when other teams come to town -- NFC teams and like the Rams came last year and stuff, it's -- nobody really says much.

Werder - For Seattle fans, perhaps the only thing worse than losing to the Raiders is being denied the chance to play them regularly. Yet there's a very strong likelihood that when the Seahawks open their new stadium in 2002, they will not only be competing in a different division that the Raiders, but in a different conference as well.

Unidentified Male - Our position all along has been that we want to stay in the AFC West, not so much from a competitive standpoint; really for our fans. And the rivalries they like are the Raiders and the Broncos and the people we've played for a long time.

Unidentified Male - Sports Radio 950...

Unidentified Male - ... gas time here at the Pyramid brewdeck studios on Sportsradio 950 KJR.

Unidentified Male - ... excited, man, the hometown nine are back in town tonight -- are you kidding me?

Werder - With the decision just days away, one thing seems abundantly clear on another partly cloudy spring afternoon in Seattle - The expected separation of the Seahawks from their AFC rivals has inspired a response of indifference rather than outrage.

Unidentified Male - It's a baseball town...

Unidentified Male - It's a baseball town.

Unidentified Male - The Hawks are just off the radar screen until they start winning on a regular basis -- and now they're off to the NFC West, huh?

Unidentified Male - Did you -- have you ever brought that up as a topic on your show?

Unidentified Male - We did -- about a month ago we did a poll question, and the vast majority of people either didn't care, or though, OK; so what.

Werder - Although he'd prefer not moving, even Seahawks coach and general manager Mike Holmgren seems somewhat ambivalent, perhaps realizing he's powerless to change an outcome that seems inevitable.

Holmgren - I'm not totally uncomfortable with it, it's just that I think change -- any type of change makes things a little more difficult. That's assuming we leave, OK; I'm not sure that's been decided yet. I think if you asked anybody in this organization, they don't want to go. You know, we like where we are, we like the AFC West.

Werder - Still, many are speechless in Seattle when it comes to realignment, at least for now; perhaps because a proposed move is another year away.

Miko Caldwell - I want to make a payment on my season tickets.

Werder - Miko Caldwell renewed his Seahawks season tickets this week, completely unaware he could be witnessing their final season of AFC competition.

Caldwell - It's a bit of a shock, and stuff. Like I said, if, you know, if they want to move over the conference and stuff, I'm sure they have their reasons for doing it. I'll miss the games with the Raiders and stuff, but I'll get over it.

Unidentified Male - Yeah, I'd probably get over it. I mean, I go to watch the Seahawks; and that's why I go to games and, you know, die hard Seahawk fan. And whoever they play, I enjoy watching the game.

Werder - Holmgren believes that is the prevalent mindset; that ultimately fans will support the Seahawks and their new stadium rather than buying tickets to see any particular opponent.

Unidentified Male - I think for Seattle to switch-up, it's a little bit easier, you know. I was born in Chicago, and I know if you take the rivalry of Green Bay away, they'll probably burn the town down, you know. But in Seattle I don't think that would happen.

Holmgren - Shoot, it just takes the fans kind of learning about the team you're playing; and once that happens, you establish new rivalries. If we were to move, as an example into the NFC West, you know, seeing the 49ers, that's an exciting team, the 49ers.

Unidentified Male - We can see. It depends on what, you know, what the competition came down to. If it came down to the end of the year and it was us and San Francisco, and we were going for the, you know, the league championship or the league title, then I definitely would hate them. I'd definitely hate them.

Ley - Realignment nothing new for the man who owns the NFL Super Bowl champion Ravens. Next, I'll speak with Art Modell, who once moved his club across conference lines.

Ley - Realignment may move the pieces around the NFL chess board, but the last realignment did not go down gently. Back then, in 1970, there was suspicion of the AFL, as well as the remarkable shift of three established NFL teams to the new AFC.

Art Modell's Cleveland Browns was one of those teams then, just as his Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens will be in play when the votes go down this week.

Unidentified Male - Go Shannon! Go baby, go! Block him Patrick! Block him!

Ley - How would this question of realignment be different if the coaches could cast the team vote?

Modell - God forbid. You've got to be kidding!

Ley - Give me an idea.

Modell - It's unthinkable. Why? Because they're transient. Coaches are here, gone tomorrow. Ownership is stable, franchises are stable. I wouldn't give a coach on a matter of this kind because he's looking at, oh, who has a better offensive line, or this team -- who has the stronger pass rush on the other side of the ball. You don't dictate that. You do it for far more profound reasons.

I think the world of Mike Holmgren, but you understand what I'm saying.

Ley - This time it seems like the dominoes are going to fall a little bit more easily; and why is that?

Modell - Because the economic factor has been eliminated from any consideration of realignment. We have voted to share all visiting team shares equally, like we do television. Goes into one pot, and it's cut up 32 ways; so there's no advantage to want this team because I've got a big gape here, I've got a big check. That's over. That used to be a factor, but not any more. And that should make the realignment very, very plausible, feasible, and doable next week.

Ley - What's different about keeping, now, 32 owners in this era on the same page, focused on the same goal, as it might have been 30 years ago, when you had, maybe, more football people who had their principle on the line?

Modell - I think it's more difficult now because they're different values. People are financially motivated, others are competitively motivated, others want to see columns written about them and their picture in the paper. The ego comes into play.

And I love more than anything else, then as I do now, is 1:00 on Sunday, nothing like it. It's the greatest sport in the world, and it's the job of the ownership group, now, to keep it the No. 1 sport.

Ley - You talk about 1:00 on Sunday's being a special time, and it is for the people at home, so that when they tune in, you get a sense they need to see the Bears play the Vikings. They need to anticipate the 'Skins and the Cowboys.

Modell - No question about it. That's a given, Bob; that's a given. There are rivalries that are enduring the passage of time. And Dallas -- they came in the league in 1960, and Dallas and Washington, Dallas and New York, Dallas and Philadelphia, Philadelphia and New York -- that's entrenched. Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota -- entrenched.

Ley - Untouchables?

Modell - Untouchable. You'll find different views about the AFC East. Ralph Wilson will not give up his Jets or Miami games for whatever reason. I think people could live without Buffalo-Jets. I think they can live without Baltimore-Cincinnati. I don't think people are waiting in line to buy TV sets to watch that game.

Ley - What's the role of television in all of this? How much does the league consult with its television partners?

Modell - We're obligated to, and it's prudent for us to do so. It would be insane to do something unilaterally and then tell the networks, OK, you've got Buffalo instead of the Jets -- you know, some way out of the way realignment. You want to cross lines, the most logical realignment is the Redskins and the Ravens.

Ley - But it won't work, will it?

Modell - Because we can't play both on Sunday at 1:00 and televise at the same time. There's a television problem.

Ley - Giants-Jets, same thing.

Modell - Television problem.

Ley - Jacksonville-Miami.

Modell - No, not as much.

You can't play both teams -- both games at 1:00. Now you could, through some creative, computerized planning, do 1:00 and 4:00; Monday night, Sunday night, you've got more options now that you might reduce the conflict somewhat. But no, you can't go in there and televise the Redskins and the Ravens at the same time, same network.

Ley - You don't have a vote in this league meeting coming up.

Modell - Fortunately.

Ley - Fortunately? What do you say that?

Modell - I'll be heard on the matter.

Ley - Alright, when you're heard, what are you going to be saying? Where do you want to go? Where do you want your Super Bowl champs to be? In the AFC North?

Modell - I would like to stay in with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Dan Rooney would, too. I don't know about the other two teams.

Ley - If you went to the AFC South, the thinking was that -- the question in the AFC, of course, you and Houston; Houston coming in at 2002 -- that if you went -- if the Ravens went into the AFC South you'd have too powerful of a division. Is that a concern?

Modell - Bob, you don't judge a competitor year by year. Competition develops over a period of years. There's no advantage for anybody going into a division, because their weak now, tomorrow they can be strong. You can't judge it on one season. You can't judge the Ravens on one season, this past year, even though it was a glorious year.

Ley - Art Modell, thanks for spending this time with us.

Ley - And when we continue -There is a plan to move Peyton Manning and the Colts, but what are the dynamics of Tuesday's meetings? I'll be speaking with someone who will be covering that.

Ley - Thirty plans have been floated, the commissioner holds four votes, and beginning Tuesday in Chicago, the final realignment decisions will be made.

John Clayton will be covering those meetings; he is in Seattle which could shortly become an NFC town.

John, let's deal with that first. Is that a done deal, because San Diego had been on the table to move; is it going to be Seattle switching conferences, do you think?

John Clayton - Yes, pretty much. I mean, you can almost say it's a done deal. This is one where Paul Allen's $36 billion couldn't even help. They can't buy the league and get them to stay in the AFC. So Bob Whitsaid, Mike Holmgren -- they're going to meet, they're going to try to make a push to get San Diego to try to make the move, but in the end, it'll be Seattle going to the NFC West.

Ley - It is so very orderly; they have realigned the schedule, they have the revenue sharing, so not a lot of controversy expected. But where could some of the heat and sparks come in the Chicago meeting? Who may try and upset the apple cart?

Clayton - Well, it's funny because one of the newest owners, who just got a Super Bowl, Wayne Weaver, is going to be the guy making the big push. And his big thing, as he mentioned in the piece earlier, is that he wants to try to have three of his own teams and at least break up that Central division in a way that he can have Baltimore, he can have Tennessee -- two of their biggest rivals. But in the end, Baltimore wants to stay in the NFC, what will be the AFC North.

So, consequently, it looks like that's going to be a fight, and probably the best fight. But in the end, it probably won't happen.

Ley - So it's a case of giving him a little bit of time to vent, and then holding the vote.

Clayton - Exactly.

Ley - Alright, let's talk about the fact -- you mentioned the AFC South and the AFC North. When you lay out conferences, as Art Modell made the point when I spoke with him, you don't necessarily think about competitiveness today. But the Colts are certainly up in the air, and here's a team lead saying Indianapolis, geographically, is more of a Northern city, but right now the leading option has them going to the South. And, you know, competitively, this is an interesting situation; where are the Colts going?

Clayton - yes, it's really fascinating because, really, what you have, is here's the Ravens with one of the best defenses maybe ever assembled, and the Colts with one of the best offenses. And consequently, you've got more teams wanting the Ravens to stay in their division, whether it's going to be Pittsburgh, where Indy's a smaller market. It does have star players, but it seems like nobody really wants them.

And also, too, you have the problem where Indy and Baltimore in the same division -- Jimmy Irsay, when he goes back to Baltimore, he still gets death threats; that's a little bit of a problem. So Baltimore, in the end, probably will stay in that new North division.

Ley - And quickly - the Cardinals -- there are always the Cardinals. For all the talk about rivalries, it's amazing what writing a check will do, and the revenue sharing will take care of their problem with the Cowboys.

Clayton - Exactly; owner Bill Bidwell said that, you know, it's going to be painful to go through this because, certainly, nobody's going to get this equally. But there is going to be equal sharing at the visiting gate and so, consequently, it's not going to be a money loss, it's just going to be a rivalry loss in Arizona.

Ley - OK; John Clayton, thanks a great deal. We will be looking for your reports this week on "SportsCenter."

Next - The choice of higher taxes or no high school football? A look back at last week's topic and the vote in Mobile.

Ley - High school football was the most public face of the tax referendum in Mobile County, Alabama; that was the subject of last Sunday's program. That ballot measure did pass with 56 percent of the vote this past week, ensuring the continuation of extracurricular activities.

Unidentified Male - We did it for kids; we all won. Put your hands up, you're a hell of a winning team.

Ley - Among our e-mails, the former head of a state coaching association writing - "This is an issue that scares me to death. Yes, I am a football coach, yes I spend hours breaking down film, putting game plans into place and getting my team ready to play; but what is even more important is that I have the opportunity to spend hours with kids. Some of these kids do not have much of a home life; some do not have much of anything. If you remove the opportunity to be involved in a positive, sponsored activity, what will the kids do?"

And from Moore, Oklahoma - "The major function of school is to educate children, not produce winning football teams, bands, cheerleaders, choir, et cetera. If that means cutting extracurriculars to put money into the classroom, so be it."

You can address your e-mail directly from the Outside The Lines Web site. The keyword on -OTLWEEKLY. You can access our library of streaming video and transcriptions for all the Sunday morning programs, and we look forward to your e-mail, comments, suggestions and criticisms. And out address, right there -

Announcer - Outside The Lines is a presentation of ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports. For more, log on to

Ley - If you've joined us along the way, the program will be re-airing over on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. Eastern, that is 10 a.m. Pacific time.

We've got the Angels and the Indians tonight on ESPN at 8 p.m. Eastern right after "Baseball Tonight." I am Bob Ley; we will see you next Sunday.

Next, we've got the beginning for the Spurs and the Lakers and the end for the Sixers and the Raptors; as well, from Europe, a golf shot by Tiger Woods you may not believe, as he is doing his job and climbing up the leader board. Chris McKendry and Rece Davis are set with "SportsCenter."

We'll see you next Sunday morning at 10:30 Eastern for Outside The Lines.

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 ESPN's Bob Ley examines the possibilities of NFL realignment.
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