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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001
IRVING, Texas -- The Bucs are a big step closer to leaving the NFC Central as NFL owners eliminated a major hurdle to realignment Wednesday by adopting a new revenue-sharing plan.
Under the plan that will begin in 2002, the 40 percent gate receipts earned by each visiting team in all regular season and preseason games will be combined, with the money then distributed equally among all 32 teams.
"There are economic considerations of realigning with a major upheaval of traditional rivalries," Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt said. "This is an important step."
During their one-day meeting, owners again discussed but took no formal action on realignment that will be needed when the Houston Texans join in 2002.
They spent more than an hour discussing various divisional alignments during the first meeting on the topic involving all 32 teams.
With realignment, the six existing divisions will be redone into eight four-team divisions in two 16-team conferences.
That will mean the end to some divisional rivalries that started with the last major realignment after the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. It would also mean that some teams may not routinely play road games against big-market teams that provide larger gate receipts.
Jerry Jones, who wants his Cowboys to stay in the NFC East with the Giants, Eagles and Redskins, said the overwhelming sentiment is to protect rivalries.
"We want to maintain the competition between teams that have played 30, 40, 50 years or more," Jones said. "There are other issues, but that's No. 1."
The leading proposal calls for the Texans to be an AFC member when they join the league. Seattle would move to the NFC.
Tampa Bay would be in a division with three teams from the NFC West, the Panthers, Saints and Falcons.
"That will be the basis of what we do," Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney said, adding that wasn't set in stone. "It's the fairest thing, it shouldn't be too hard now to get it done."
After the 1970 merger, there were several realignment proposals. Five plans were put into a hat, and the one pulled out by the secretary of then-commissioner Pete Rozelle was adopted.