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Playoff format on baseball agenda

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If baseball owners approve an altered playoff format suggested by their executive council, teams with the best records will be assured of home-field advantage in the first two rounds this year.

In a move to reward division champions who produce the best regular-season records, the council resolved Wednesday to give such teams the home-field advantage.Until now, teams have been designated before the season to have the home-field advantage in the early rounds.

In addition, the home-field format for the first round will be altered. Previously, Games 1 and 2 were played at one site and Games 3, 4 and 5 in another. Now, teams with the best records will play at home in the first, second and fifth games.

The second round will stay the same, with the team earning home-field advantage playing at home in Games 1, 2, 6 and 7.

No opposition appears to exist to the resolution, which must be approved by all owners. The next meeting is March 17-19 at St. Petersburg, Fla.

The players association, Fox, NBC and ESPN also must give a thumbs-up.

The council discussed two ownership issues - the proposed sale and relocation of the Minnesota Twins, and the pending sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers - but made no recommendation.

After the 4 1/4-hour meeting, acting commissioner Bud Selig repeated that the Twins cannot survive without a new stadium, then sidestepped questions about whether the reluctance of lawmakers and voters to spend money on such a project guarantees a move to North Carolina for the 1999 season.

"There's no question that North Carolina is a great area. It will be an extraordinarily attractive area someday for a big league baseball team," Selig said.

The Minnesota Legislature missed a Nov. 30 deadline to approve a stadium financing plan to keep the Twins, and voters in North Carolina's Triad area will vote May 5 on two new taxes that would bankroll part of a $210 million stadium to land them.

North Carolina businessman Don Beaver hopes to acquire the Twins and move them to the Winston-Salem-High Point-Greensboro area - about 90 minutes either direction from Raleigh and Charlotte.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad signed a letter of intent last year to sell to Beaver but left the door open to stay if Minnesota legislators agreed to subsidize construction of a new stadium.

"We have explored all the possibilities - public ownership, private ownership," Pohlad said. "And it still gets back to having to have a referendum to authorize the sale of bonds to finance the stadium."

He said he and Beaver were working on a binding agreement but declined to say when it might be reached.

Atlanta Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay expects the ownership committee to make a recommendation on the Dodgers sale before the next owners meeting.

"(Dodgers owner) Peter O'Malley addressed the committee and discussed some open items that need to be resolved," Bartholomay said.

He acknowledged that many owners wish the Twins would stay in Minneapolis.

"I can't imagine the Twin Cities without major league baseball, but on the other hand, the realities suggest that they have to address the stadium issue and the level of support," Bartholomay said.