ROSEMONT, Ill. — The NFL unanimously approved realignment for 2002, shifting Seattle from the AFC to the NFC but keeping most of the divisions intact.
The move creates eight four-team divisions for the 32-team league that will include expansion Houston.
Arizona switches from the NFC East to the NFC West. The NFC Central becomes the NFC North, minus Tampa Bay, which goes to the new NFC South. Seattle switches conferences, to the NFC West.
The AFC North, formerly the AFC Central, loses Jacksonville and Tennessee, which go to the new AFC South, where they join Indianapolis from the AFC East.
Under the new alignment, the AFC East will be Buffalo, Miami, New England and the New York Jets; the AFC South will be Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Tennessee; the AFC North will be Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh; and the AFC West will be Denver, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego.
The NFC East will be Dallas, the New York Giants, Philadelphia and Washington; the NFC North will be Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota; the NFC South will be Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay; and the NFC West will be Seattle, Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis.
June 1 was the deadline for having the new 32-team, eight-division alignment set, and final approval was no big problem. There was very little debate on an issue that had been discussed extensively for 18 months.
"I think everyone realized that everything that could be said had been said," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.
The last realignment, in 1970, was difficult because three teams had to move from the NFL to the AFL in an era when there was less harmony. This change, based primarily on geography, wasn't as contentious.
Because Houston, an original AFL city, has been promised a spot in the AFC, one AFC team had to move to the NFC. That turned out to be Seattle, although San Diego also was considered.
The Seahawks played a year in the NFC before switching in 1977.
The new scheduling format ensures that every team meets every other team in the league at least once every four years. There will be six division games — home-and-home — plus games against one division from the AFC and one from the NFC on a rotating basis.
The other two games will be within the conference based on the previous season's standings: one vs. one, two vs. two, etc.
The league also will not set exhibition games except for the last one in an effort to preserve rivalries. Tagliabue said, for example, that Dallas would play Arizona, which had its largest draws against the Cowboys.