NFL meetings begin in Phoenix
PHOENIX, March 24 (UPI) -- Altering the overtime rules and expanding the playoffs will be the hot topics for discussion at the NFL owners meetings, which officially got underway Monday.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue kicked off the meetings, which consist of a group of about 300 owners, executives, coaches, and officials, with a 30-minute review of league affairs.
"Collectively, your talent and great football produced a truly remarkable 2002 season," Tagliabue said. "It was not a season of 'parity' - a word that smacks of mediocrity. It was a season of competitive excellence."
The NFL began the meetings by unveiling several more games that will be part of the league's season-opening weekend on Sept. 7-8.
The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play in the opening Monday night game of the season on Sept. 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles in a rematch of the NFC championship game. It will mark the Eagles' first game at their new home, Lincoln Financial Field.
The first Sunday night game of the season, on Sept. 7, will have the Oakland Raiders visiting Tennessee Titans in a rematch of the AFC title game. Earlier that day, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Atlanta Falcons in their first game under new coach Bill Parcells.
The eight-member NFL Competition Committee, which concluded eight days of meetings last Wednesday in Naples, Fla., is split on changes to the overtime format and not in favor of adding two playoff teams.
Last year, the NFL had a record 25 overtime games. Ten of those were decided on the first possession, and 15 were won by the team that won the coin toss.
"There is a concern that the first possession is becoming too much of an advantage," said Tampa Bay General Manager and Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay. "I'm sure it will be debated, and we'll have a vote on it."
Since overtime was instituted in 1974, a coin toss determines which team gets the ball and the club that scores first wins.
Under the new proposal, a two-possession system would give both teams a chance to score, with the game reverting to sudden death thereafter.
The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs are responsible for submitting a proposal to add a wild-card playoff team in each conference, expanding the postseason to 14 teams, but that may not even get voted upon by the owners before the meetings, which take place in Phoenix, Ariz., conclude Wednesday.
The NFL realigned to eight four-team divisions last season, with the division winners and two wild cards in each conference advancing to the playoffs.
"I think the committee wants to give it (realignment) two years before we decide whether it's appropriate to expand the playoffs," McKay said.
The NFL has expanded from 28 teams in 1994 to 32 with last year's addition of the Houston Texans, but a 12-team playoff field has been in effect since 1990. The new proposed format would have an odd seven playoff teams in each conference, giving a bye to only the team with the best record. The division winner with the second-best record would play the third wild card team instead of receiving a bye.
The Cleveland Browns submitted a proposal in which coaches would not lose an instant replay challenge if they win the challenge. Under the rules, teams get to use just two coaching challenges per game, but that proposal appears to be a year away from getting voted on.
"This is the final year of replay, and we aren't comfortable in tinkering with the rules," McKay said. "Any modification should be done next year."
With the United States at war in Iraq, the status of NFL Europe will be discussed. The league's six teams have been training in Florida for the past three weeks, and are scheduled to go overseas on Tuesday and Wednesday. The season begins on April 5.
Discussions will continue on efforts to improve diversity hiring for coaches and front office executives. The NFL wants to create programs that promote qualified minority candidates.
There are only three black head coaches in the NFL -- Herman Edwards of the New York Jets, Tony Dungy of Indianapolis, and, just recently, Marvin Lewis of Cincinnati -- and two black general managers -- Ozzie Newsome of Baltimore and James Harris of Jacksonville.
Future Super Bowl sites will not be determined until later in the year, but there will be presentations by two Los Angeles stadiums, one involving improvements to the Rose Bowl and the other for a new stadium in Carson City.
Big new contract for Randy Johnson
PHOENIX, March 24 (UPI) -- Randy Johnson, in the midst of one of the most dominant stretches by a pitcher in the last 50 years, has agreed to a contract extension with Arizona.
The deal is believed to be for two years and worth $26 million.
With Arizona, he has a record of 81-27 with a 2.48 ERA.
"I cannot imagine there has been any other free agent signing in our game's history that has made a bigger impact on his club and has been so directly attributed to winning as Randy's signing here," said Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo.
Less than a week after locking up their top offensive player, Luis Gonzalez, to a three-year extension, the Diamondbacks stepped up financially to secure Johnson's services through 2005.
He is coming off another dominant season, one that resulted in his fourth straight Cy Young Award and fifth trophy overall. The only other pitcher to win the Cy Young award four straight seasons was righthander Greg Maddux of Atlanta (1992-95).
"His numbers absolutely speak for themselves," said General Manager Joe Garagiola. "Every time he takes the ball, there is a sense that history could be made that day, and fortunately, our organization has been the beneficiary of his work for four seasons. Randy is one of the very few pitchers who impacts a game several days before he takes the hill."
Last season, Johnson, 39, became the first NL pitcher since Dwight Gooden of the New York Mets in 1985 to win pitching's Triple Crown -- wins, ERA, and strikeouts. He went 24-5 with a 2.32 ERA, and struck out 334 batters in 260 innings.
Known as "The Big Unit" because of his 6-10 frame, Johnson led the Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001, winning Games Two, Six, and Seven. He was named co-MVP for his efforts, and last season showed no signs of slowing down.
Johnson also won the American League Cy Young Award with the Seattle Mariners in 1995. Only Roger Clemens, who won his sixth Cy Young Award in 2001, has more.
During the season, Johnson moved from ninth to fourth place on the all-time strikeouts list with 3,746. He recorded a pair of 17-strikeout games -- April 21 against Colorado, and Sept. 14 against Milwaukee.
Devil Rays get Conti from Milwaukee
PHOENIX, March 24 (UPI) -- The Milwaukee Brewers, looking to bolster their outfield depth, acquired Jason Conti from Tampa Bay Monday for catcher Javier Valentin.
Conti, 28, hit .257 with three homers and 21 RBI in 78 games for the Devil Rays last season, and was off to a slow start this spring (.222 in 15 games). However, the Brewers are desperate for outfielders with Geoff Jenkins, Alex Sanchez, and Brady Clark battling injuries.
"In Jason Conti, we have acquired an outfielder with major league experience that will provide immediate assistance given the injuries our club has sustained during spring training," said Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin. "He has great versatility in the outfield, and will provide depth to our club as we begin regular season play."
Valentin, 27, was having a rough spring, batting just .147 in 34 at-bats. With Tampa Bay, he will serve as a backup to Toby Hall.
College Football Hall adds thirteen
SOUTH BEND, Ind., March 24 (UPI) -- Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State was among 13 individuals named to the College Football Hall of Fame on Monday.
Sanders was the 1988 Heisman Trophy who had one of greatest rushing seasons in football history.
Eleven players and two coaches spanning more than half a century of college football comprise the Division I-A Class of 2003, which will be inducted on Dec. 9 in New York City, and officially enshrined at the Hall in South Bend in the summer of 2004.
Ricky Bell of Southern California is the other running back on the list, and quarterbacks Joe Theismann of Notre Dame and John Rauch of Georgia also were elected.
Hayden Fry, who led his teams to 17 bowl appearances, and Doug Dickey were selected as coaches.
The rest of the field includes Dartmouth defensive back Murry Bowden, Minnesota guard Tom Brown, Pittsburgh tackle Jimbo Covert, Southern Methodist end Jerry LeVias, Alabama tackle Billy Neighbors, Arizona State linebacker Ron Pritchard, and Missouri defensive back Roger Wehrli.
Sanders was a backup at Oklahoma State for two seasons before exploding for 2,628 rushing yards, 39 touchdowns, and 234 points in 1988, all NCAA records he still holds. He set 34 NCAA records in 1988, and won the Heisman, Maxwell, and Walter Camp Awards.
During his career, Sanders rushed for over 300 yards in a game four times, 200 yards in a game seven times, and 100 yards 17 times.
The first pick in the 1989 NFL draft played 10 seasons for the Detroit Lions before retiring in 2000.
Bell finished second in the Heisman voting in 1976, and third in 1975. He helped the Trojans win a national title as a sophomore in 1974. A year later, he led the nation in rushing.
Theismann set 19 Notre Dame records and took the Fighting Irish to their first bowl appearance in 45 years in 1969. A year later, Notre Dame was 10-1 and snapped a 30-game winning streak by Texas with a win in the Cotton Bowl. Theismann, who went on play for the Washington Redskins, posted a 25-4-3 college record.
Rauch started all 45 games of his career at Georgia, and led the Bulldogs to two Southeastern Conference titles and a national title in 1946.
Fry coached at SMU (1962-72), North Texas State (1973-78), and Iowa (1979-98), and is best remembered for the rebirth of football at Iowa. He led the Hawkeyes to three Big Ten Conference titles, and ranks 11th in Division I-A history with 232 wins.
Dickey revived the program at Tennessee, taking the Volunteers to five bowl games from 1964-69. He left for Florida, his alma mater, in 1970, and the Gators made four bowl appearances during his tenure from 1970-78.
Bowden led Dartmouth to the school's last undefeated season in 1970, when it won the Ivy League title.
Brown, known as the "Rock of Gibraltar," was the anchor of a team that went from last in the Big Ten Conference in 1959 to a national title the following season.
Covert was at Pittsburgh from 1979-82, and was a key blocker for quarterback Dan Marino, who already is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
LeVias was the first black player in SMU history, and was MVP of the Senior Bowl in 1969. In 1966, he led the Mustangs to their first Southwest Conference title in 18 years.
Neighbors played under Bear Bryant at Alabama from 1959-61, and helped the Crimson Tide to three straight bowl appearances.
Playing both sides of the ball, Neighbors was a key cog of the 1961 team that was 11-0 and helped Alabama its first national title in 20 years.
The hard-hitting Pritchard played at Arizona State from 1966-69, and led the Sun Devils to a pair of eight-win seasons.
Wehrli had seven interceptions in 1968, and led Missouri to a win over Alabama in the Gator Bowl.
Ballots were distributed to more than 11,000 members of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. To be eligible for consideration, a player must have been a first team All-American, played at least 10 years ago, and retired from professional football. Coaches must be out of the game at least three years, coached a minimum of 10 years and 100 games, and won at least 60 percent of their games.
Diggs signs offer sheet from Lions
ALLEN PARK, Mich., March 24 (UPI) -- The Detroit Lions confirmed Monday that they have signed restricted free agent linebacker Na'il Diggs to an offer sheet.
The three-year starter at Green Bay signed the offer sheet for a four-year deal Saturday. The Packers have seven days, or until Sat. March 29, to match the offer. If it does not, the Packers would receive the Lions' fourth-round choice in the 2003 NFL Draft as compensation.
Diggs was a three-year starter at strong-side linebacker. In 2002, he finished second in tackles with 111, including 83 solos. He also posted three quarterback sacks and two interceptions.
Diggs, who broke into the starting strong-side role as a rookie in 2000, has developed into an every-down linebacker, and has improved his coverage skills. The fourth-round draft choice out of Ohio State in 2000 has started 44 of the 45 professional games he has played for Green Bay.
He visited the Lions' Allen Park, Mich., headquarters and training facility last week along with unrestricted free agent linebacker Wali Rainer of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Diggs' acquisition would help upgrade the strong-side position. He would compete with another former Packer in Brian Williams for the starting nod if the Packers do not match the Lions' offer.
Adams signs with Bills
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., March 24 (UPI) -- The Buffalo Bills continued to revamp their defense Monday, agreeing to a contract with free agent defensive tackle Sam Adams.
Terms were not disclosed, but ESPN reported that Adams, 29, agreed to a four-year deal.
The 6-3, 330-pounder will enter his 10th NFL season in 2003. He spent 2002 with the AFC champion Oakland Raiders, six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, and two with the Baltimore Ravens.
In 2000, Adams, who has 29 career sacks, started all 16 games for the Super Bowl champion Raiders.
"This is a first class organization, facility, administration, and staff," Adams said after his visit to Buffalo on March 8. "This organization is geared towards winning a world championship. As a player, a free agent especially, this is a situation that you want to be involved. From the janitor to the owner, they are committed to winning a championship, and that's something that every player wants to be a part of."
The Bills already have brought in linebackers Takeo Spikes and Jeff Posey via free agency this offseason. Monday's deal gives the Bills a huge defensive tackle to play alongside Pat Williams, giving Buffalo one of the NFL's better tandems at the position.
Bailey leaving Michigan
ANN ARBOR, Mich., March 24 (UPI) -- Chuck Bailey, who played in 57 games for Michigan over the last two seasons, announced Monday that he is leaving the school at the end of the current semester.
Bailey averaged 3.1 points and 2.3 rebounds per game during his career with the Wolverines. He logged an average of just over 11 minutes per game, had a career total of 24 blocks, and shot just under 56 percent from the field.
"We think a great deal of Chuck and his family," said Michigan Coach Tommy Amaker. "We wish him the best as he continues his education and playing career."
Bailey shot 59.6 percent from the field this season, and scored a season-high 11 points against Duke on Dec. 7.
Olympic speed skater sues Chicago police
CHICAGO, March 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Olympic speed skater Shani Davis Monday filed a federal court suit against the Chicago Police Department for illegally stopping and detaining him.
Davis and brothers Damien and Quincy Joyner allege they were stopped in separate incidents by police, detained and searched for no apparent reason or legal justification.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed the suit on behalf of the three, alleging their civil rights were violated and Chicago police commit such violations regularly, particularly against black and Hispanic men.
Davis said he was confronted by officers as he walked down a Far North Side street in March 2001 and was subjected to an "intrusive" search. He said police first used their hands to pat down his arms, legs and torso, then had him pull his pants and underwear away from his body so they could be inspected by flashlight. Davis said his pockets also were searched before he was allowed to proceed.
The alleged incident was the second, Davis said, the first occurring several months earlier on another North Side street.
"I travel all over the world as an athlete and receive basic respect wherever I go," Davis said. "It is infuriating to be treated like this in my hometown. There is no reason that this should have happened to me."
The Joyners said they were stopped by police in January 2002 as they walked toward a North Side Chicago Transit Authority station and ordered to place their hands on a wall while they were searched. Police then allegedly searched without permission a bag containing camera equipment Quincy Joyner was carrying.
"The entire experience was disconcerting and humiliating," Damien Joyner said. "My brother and I did nothing wrong. We were simply stopped, detained and searched without cause. Being on the street should not be a crime."
ACLU Legal Director Harvey Grossman told a news conference the incidents "demonstrate ... a fundamental problem with the way police treat individuals on the streets of Chicago."
"Young, law-abiding men like Shani Davis and the Joyners should not be subjected to this humiliating, abusive behavior," Grossman said.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the city to adequately train, supervise and to discipline when necessary police officers in stopping, detaining and searching civilians on the street. The lawsuit also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for Davis and the Joyners.
"The leadership of the (police department) has an obligation to train and supervise their officers to respect and protect the rights of all persons in our community," Grossman said. "This case makes clear that the department is not living up to this obligation."
On Monday's Sports Schedule
NCAA Women's Tournament
(2) Purdue vs. (7) Virginia Tech at West Lafayette, Ind., 7:06 p.m. (East Region)
(4) Vanderbilt vs. (5) Boston Col. at Norfolk, Va., 7:10 p.m. (East)
(4) Rutgers vs. (5) Georgia at Athens, Ga., 7:14 p.m. (Midwest)
(3) Mississippi St. vs. (6) New Mexico at Albuquerque, N.M., 9:13 p.m.
(1) Tennessee vs. (8) Virginia at Knoxville, Tenn., 9:15 p.m. (Mideast)
(3) North Carolina vs. (6) Colorado at Boulder, Colo., 9:19 p.m. (Mideast)
(1) LSU vs. (8) Wis.-Green Bay at Eugene, Ore., 11:33 p.m. (West)
(3) Stanford vs. (6) Minnesota at Stanford, Calif., 11:37 p.m. (West)
Georgetown at Providence, 7:30 p.m.
Virginia at St. John's, 7:30 p.m.
Wyoming at North Carolina, 8 p.m.
Hawaii at Minnesota, 8 p.m.
Georgia Tech at Iowa, 8 p.m.
Tierre Brown gets new deal from Cavaliers
CLEVELAND, March 24 (UPI) -- The Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the worst record in the NBA, Monday signed guard Tierre Brown for the remainder of the season.
Brown originally signed 10-day contract with Cleveland on March 3, a week after veteran guard Bimbo Coles was waived. In five games with the Cavaliers, he is averaging 1.2 points, 1.4 assists, and 5.4 minutes.
The 6-2 Brown was averaging 15.4 points per game and 4.9 assists in 41 games with North Charleston of the NBDL before signing with Cleveland. Last season as a rookie, he averaged 3.1 points and 1.8 assists in 40 games with the Houston Rockets.
Cleveland (13-56) is the only team in the NBA with less than a .200 winning percentage.