Proposals to realign major league baseball into three divisions with a wild-card playoff system similar to pro football's are not likely to be approved during the annual winter baseball meetings beginning tomorrow.
Based on interviews with club executives and owners before they left for the Orlando, Fla., meetings, it appears likely that the National League will veto the concept if it does not table it first.
A unanimous vote of the 12 NL clubs is required for approval and there is opposition.
American League clubs are more receptive to the idea, but are apt to table it for more study. The AL requires approval of 11 of the 14 clubs to enact the plan.
While much of the debate on three-divisional play will focus on its merits alone, the owners will also be preoccupied with the possible effects the proposal might have on network television contracts.
Baseball's current four-year network package of almost $95 million expires after next season and negotiations are already under way with the three networks.
The baseball owners are keenly aware of the coup their counterparts in the National Football League scored last year: a four-year network pact amounting to $576 million, or $5.8 million a year for each of the 28 teams for four years.
The differences between baseball and football -- 162 games vs. 16, local television income vs. none -- plus their disparate television appeal as reflected in the regular-season ratings doesn't present much promise for a similar jackpot for baseball.
The league championship playoffs and the World Series, however, are a different story. An estimated average 69 million people saw some part of each 1978 Series game, up from 53 million people two years ago. Overall, major league baseball said, an estimated 103.7 million people saw some part of the six-game Series. For the playoffs, the average was 37 million, up 2 million from 1976.
A 10-member study committee is to present its findings to the owners. In general, the format discussed most frequently involves: dividing each league into three divisions (instead of the current two) and having a fourth "wild card" team for the playoffs. The wild card team would probably be based on the highest win-loss record after the divisional leaders.
The geographical alignments discussed most frequently for the American League are: West -- Seattle, Oakland, California, Texas; Central -- Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Chicago, Kansas City; East -- Boston, New York, Baltimore, Toronto, Cleveland.
For the National League, they are: West -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Houston; Central -- Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta; East -- Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh.
"The extra playoff, the extra jewel, should have some value on the market place," said Tom Villante, baseball's director of marketing and broadcasting. "The contenders do well at the gate and in the ratings. Hopefully, this (type of format) will help more clubs stay in the race as pennant contenders."
Phillie President Ruly Carpenter, for example, said, "At this time, we feel it's in our best interests to keep the current divisional alignment... It's partially selfish. It (the concept) would cause scheduling problems. We'd have less games against the Reds and Dodgers, two of our biggest draws....
"If the network came up with a proposal to offset (a potential gate loss), that would be something different. But until we see figures on paper, we're going to stick with the current structure."
Dodger President Peter O'Malley, a member of the study committee, said he was "keeping an open mind, but I think the setup we have now is ideal." O'Malley added he thought the chances of a runaway race could increase as the number of teams in the division decreased."
Giant owner Bob Lurie was one of the few in the NL endorsing the concept. "It makes sense," he said. "You'd create more fan interest, particularly in September, if you're involving more teams and your own team has a chance to get into the World Series."
Baltimore General Manager Hank Peters said the possibility of increased gate revenue from a pennant race, plus additional network television income were plusses in the concept. But, he noted that two rounds of playoffs might require a reduction in the number of regular-season games at home and on the road.
Such a cut, Peters said, may affect their share of local television and radio income and could hurt even more if Red Sox and Yankee games were among those cut.