Wayne Weaver didn't get the division alignment he wanted, but the NFL agreed to a concession that left the Jaguars owner more than satisfied.
The Jaguars were officially assigned to the AFC South Division for the 2002 season, and will be joined by AFC Central rival Tennessee, AFC East power Indianapolis, and the expansion Houston Texans.
"I'm positive about it," Weaver told jaguars.com from the NFL owners meetings in Chicago.
Weaver had passionately sought an AFC South that would include Jacksonville, Baltimore, Houston and Tennessee, but he approved the Jacksonville, Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee arrangement based on one condition: "The league is going to schedule some preseason games," Weaver said.
That concession, in exchange for unanimous approval of the "Option A" realignment plan, will make future preseason schedules much more attractive. Immediately, Weaver spoke of bringing Miami, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Denver to Jacksonville in future preseasons.
Previously, each NFL team was left to arrange its own preseason schedules, and old-guard teams continued to play the same preseason schedules each season. With the league's help, and under the new scheduling format, the Jaguars are almost certain to play a couple of their "old rivals" at home every preseason.
"We'll have an opportunity to bring in these great rivalries, and they won't be home and home," Weaver said.
All road-team ticket revenue will be shared equally by the league's 32 teams, beginning in the 2002 preseason, but the home team will keep 60 percent of the gate receipts, and that makes an improved preseason home schedule very attractive for the Jaguars.
The regular-season scheduling format that begins in 2002 will see the Jaguars play six games within the AFC South, four games against another AFC division, four games against an NFC division, and two games against teams in the other two AFC divisions. In 2002, with the AFC North and AFC South expected to play each other, the Jaguars will play against all of their old AFC Central rivals, and can be expected to have either Miami or Tampa Bay or both on the preseason home schedule.
"It really helps our season ticket package if we can bring these marquee teams in. We've added great sizzle to our preseason," Weaver said.
The only negative to the AFC South alignment is market size. Houston is the 11th-largest TV market in America, but Indianapolis is 26th, Nashville is 30th and Jacksonville is 52nd. Those numbers clearly make the AFC South the NFL's small-market division, and that could hurt the Jaguars in terms of reduced television exposure.
When the Jaguars begin play in the AFC South, the division will include headline players such as Mark Brunell and Fred Taylor, Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James, and Steve McNair and Eddie George. Manning's popularity and the intensity of the Jaguars-Titans rivalry should certainly help attendance, and playing the expansion Texans twice a season could help a Jaguars team that may be in the midst of rebuilding.
"We're all going to have cyclical ups and downs. Right now, we have three of the marquee teams in our division. I'm really excited about it," said Weaver, who had desperately wanted to be joined in his new division by at least three of his AFC Central rivals.
The league's preseason concession eased Weaver's disappointment.
Complete realignment for 2002 is:
AFC East--Buffalo, Miami, New England, New York Jets.
AFC North--Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh.
AFC South--Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee.
AFC West--Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego.
NFC East--Dallas, New York Giants, Philadelphia, Washington.
NFC North--Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota.
NFC South--Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay.
NFC West--Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.