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NFL Europe will go on as scheduled

  |   March 24, 2003 at 5:22 PM
PHOENIX, March 24 (UPI) -- Citing a strong consensus from NFL owners, NFL Europe will go on as scheduled despite war in Iraq.

The developmental league's six teams have been training in Florida for the past three weeks and will head overseas Tuesday and Wednesday. The season will begin as scheduled on April 5.

"We all know the world has changed, but that's the environment we live in," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Monday at the NFL owners meetings. "But we had a strong consensus to go forward and play the season and that's in recognition of how football has been embraced in Europe.

The discussion on sending players was one of several on the opening session of the meetings. Three of NFL Europe's teams are based in Germany, with the others in Spain, Scotland and the Netherlands. It serves as primarily a training league that is best known for producing St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player. Quarterback Brad Johnson of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers also played in NFL Europe.

The NFL's Diversity Committee met for more than an hour Monday, but Pittsburgh Steelers owner and committee chairman Dan Rooney said no decision has been made on whether the Detroit Lions will be penalized for their coaching search before hiring Steve Mariucci.

Rooney had said after the hiring that the Lions "failed to meet the new league guidelines outlined to interview minority candidates" for the job opening. Lions President Matt Millen claimed five minority candidates refused to interview for the job because they believed Mariucci was Millen's choice.

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 Marvin Lewis of Cincinnati - and two black general managers - Ozzie Newsome of Baltimore and James Harris of Jacksonville.

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.

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 Rampa 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 the 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 and Indianapolis will play Cleveland.

The NFL previously announced that the Washington Redskins would host the New York Jets in the season opener on Thursday, Sept. 4.

Altering the overtime rules and expanding the playoffs will be among the topics for discussion over the next three days.

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.

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 conclude on 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.

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.

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