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Plans change for new playoffs

Major-league baseball owners are expected to vote this morning to expand the playoffs to include eight teams starting next season. After a day of meetings and discussions, however, the format they will adopt has become unclear.

The Schedule Format Committee decided Wednesday to recommend the first-place team in each division play a best-of-five series against the runner-up in its division.

That is a reversal from the previous day, when committee chairman John Harrington said the group wanted to see division champs play the second-place teams from the opposite division. But the seven-man committee voted 4-3 for the intra-divisional format.

The 28 owners will hear details of the recommendation _ and the dissenting opinion _ this morning, then vote on adding the divisional playoffs, with 15 votes needed for approval. "It's going to be an interesting debate," said Philadelphia owner Bill Giles, a committee member. "I'm 99 percent sure it's going to pass, but I'm not sure of the format."

The committee also recommended second-place teams host the first two games of the series and the division champ the final three. The series would begin the Tuesday after the end of the season.

If the owners do approve the change, it would require approval from the players association. Executive director Don Fehr did not like hearing owners had decided specifics of the plan without consulting him.

"That is emphatically and demonstrably counterproductive," Fehr told the Times from his New York office. "The more decisions they make before talking to us, the less likely they are to get an agreement."

Proponents of the plan pairing teams from the same division want to maintain the "identity and autonomy" of the division. Under that plan, the League Championship Series still would match one team from each division.

Backers of the inter-divisional format say their plan would create more fan interest. Their plan would prevent a division champ from having to play a team that it outdistanced decisively. Giles also said there could be an integrity problem if a first-place team played late-season games against two teams competing for second place and appeared to favor one of the those teams.

Harrington said he would not be surprised if the owners reversed his committee's recommendation and favored the cross-divisional pairing. Whatever plan is approved, Harrington said it would be in effect until baseball realigned into three divisions.

1994 projected dates

April 4 _ Opening day

Oct. 2 _ End of regular season

Oct. 4 _ Divisional playoffs begin

Oct. 11 _ League Championship Series begin

Oct. 22 _ World Series begins

Oct. 30 _ Possible Game 7 of World Series