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Playoffs to expand _ somehow

Major-league baseball owners voted overwhelmingly Thursday to double the number of teams that qualify for the playoffs beginning next season.

But facing internal debate over different formats and criticism from the players association for not soliciting union input, the owners put off deciding the method of selecting the extra teams and the specific format for the new best-of-five series.

Instead, the owners will spend the next few months studying options and talking with the players union, which must grant its approval.

Owners must decide whether the new teams will be the second-place finishers in each division or the non-champs with the best records in each league; whether a second-place team would play the first-place team from its division or the opposite division; and whether the runner-up team should host just the first game of the new divisional playoffs or the first two. A final vote is expected at the next quarterly meeting Sept. 8-9.

In other developments at the close of the summer meetings:

Owners agreed to proceed on a unified front in their attempt to forge a system of revenue-sharing among themselves and to develop a system of revenue participation with the players association that includes team salary caps. Owners negotiator Richard Ravitch termed the motion "a great step forward." Ravitch said he hoped to have his plans ready for presentation to the union by late July.

The committee seeking a replacement for commissioner Fay Vincent, who left office nine months ago, has narrowed the field from 187 to 20 and hoped to winnow the list to five for final interviews. No timetable was presented.

Officials said they hope to finalize a plan within 12 months that would realign teams into three divisions.

Baltimore Orioles president Larry Lucchino said the team would return for a third season of spring training in St. Petersburg.

Action on expanding the playoffs was somewhat anticlimactic.

The committee handling the issue decided Wednesday on a specific plan where the second-place team would play the first-place team from the same division, with the winner advancing to the League Championship Series.

Not all the owners liked that plan, and players union chief Don Fehr told the Times and other newspapers he was upset that owners had settled on a format without consulting him. Overnight, the committee decided to ask for only a vote on the idea of expanding the playoffs.

By 26-2 vote (Texas and Detroit reportedly dissented), the radical motion passed. Baseball now will have eight of 28 teams (29 percent) in post-season play. The NFL has 12 of 26 (46 percent), the NBA 16 of 27 (59 percent) and the NHL 16 of 24 (67 percent).

Owners hope the new system will lead to greater fan interest and TV ratings late in the season. Selig acknowledged the change will upset some people.

"We are a sport with a magnificent tradition that shouldn't be easily besmirched," he said. "But on the other hand, we are in the 1990s and the realities of today are different than 1941. Baseball doesn't live in a vacuum."