Wednesday's NFL notebook item on the Oakland Raiders ("Alignment Is Down the Line," Page D4) should have said that Oakland lost two in the row. (Published 10/14/99)

The NFL's decision last week to award Houston its latest expansion franchise overshadowed another major development that is certain to stir spirited league-wide debate. Team owners also voted last Wednesday to realign to eight four-team divisions no later than May 2001, a move that is far easier said than done.

The most sensible plan has been put forward by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, whose own magnanimous move to the AFC after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 helped smooth that contentious process along.

Under Rooney's plan, every team would play a home-and-home series with the three other teams in its division, with four games against teams in another division in the same conference and four games against teams in a division in the other conference, for a total of 14. They would get to 16 with two "wild-card" games that would allow the league to placate teams forced to leave their current divisions.

For example, the Arizona Cardinals, now in the NFC East, do not want to give up their annual home game against the Dallas Cowboys because it's their only sellout. Arizona likely would get one of the wild-card games against Dallas if, as logic would dictate, it moves out of the NFC East.

"The wild card gives the league the opportunity to line up real big games that would be great matches for TV and the fans," Rooney said recently. "It would be for rivalries that aren't normal, like when we had one with Oakland in the '70s. It would probably end up bringing the strong against the strong and the down teams against each other to give them a chance to win. The wild card is the real beauty of it."

The playoffs would still have six teams from each conference playing--the four division winners and two instead of the current three wild-card teams.

One scenario already out on the table would include the following divisions, and only one team, Seattle, having to switch conferences:

NFC East--Washington, Dallas, New York Giants, Philadelphia

NFC South--Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans, Carolina

NFC Central--Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit

NFC West--San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, Arizona

AFC East--New York Jets, Buffalo, New England, Miami

AFC South--Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Indianapolis

AFC Central--Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland

AFC West--San Diego, Kansas City, Denver, Oakland.

One more intriguing twist: Instead of needing 24 votes for passage, only 21 are necessary because Commissioner Paul Tagliabue holds three proxy votes as part of the relocation agreements that allowed the Ravens, Rams and Titans to leave Cleveland, Los Angeles and Houston, respectively.

Casserly a Candidate

While Charley Casserly is a candidate to run the football operation for the new Houston expansion franchise, team owner Bob McNair is not expected to make a final decision for several months and also will interview other candidates.

A name mentioned frequently as a leading candidate for head coach will be Gary Kubiak, the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator and a Houston native. If the St. Louis Rams continue their stunning offensive success, look for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to get consideration for the Houston job, or any other vacancy that occurs.

Phillips's St. Louis Blues

San Francisco running back Lawrence Phillips was obviously the focus of some attention last week before the 49ers played the Rams in St. Louis. Phillips was drafted by the Rams in the first round three years ago before the team, unhappy with his work habits and attitude, waived him.

The 49ers' public relations staff made Phillips available to the Bay Area media with the foolish proviso that he not be asked about St. Louis. When the session began, one of the first questions was, "What are your thoughts about returning to St. Louis?" At that point, PR Director Rodney Knox ended the session and hustled the poor lad away.

Oh yes, Phillips gained nine yards on four carries in a 42-20 loss, and declined to speak with reporters.

Gannon Questions His Team

The Oakland Raiders have lost three in a row, and quarterback Rich Gannon is questioning the preparation of some teammates.

"I'm going to continue to prepare the way I do for each week--coming in here on Tuesday, my day off and spending about five hours studying at night," he said. "It still amazes me, being in this business as long as I have, to see some of these younger guys not realizing the focus that needs to be there each week. It's like taking a final exam each week and what you did in preparation for the week shows up on Sunday."

An Age-Old Adage

Dick Vermeil on being a soon-to-be 63-year-old coach: "I learned in coaching, and then I learned it again when I was broadcasting, however you do something, when you lose, you're too old, when you win, it's because you're experienced." . . . Green Bay Coach Ray Rhodes has gotten rid of 29 players left him by Mike Holmgren and now has 16 rookies or first-year players. . . . Miami punter Tommy Hutton on his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles: "You can really see why Philadelphia struggles getting free agents," he said. "Just look at the facilities. It's ridiculous. The facilities at my high school are nicer than Philadelphia's." . . . How soon they forget: Atlanta, not San Francisco, is the defending NFC West champion, as The Post erroneously reported in Monday's account of the Rams beating the wild-card 49ers.