By Richard Rosenblatt
AP Sports Writer
03/27/2002 05:29 PM

NEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL ended its push for late-season scheduling flexibility to help ABC's sagging Monday Night Football ratings and will release the 2002 schedule on Thursday, The Associated Press has learned.

Earlier this week, NFL officials met with executives from CBS and Fox, trying to convince them to agree to some flexibility for the final four weeks of the regular season.

``The league will use the same format as in the past for Monday Night Football,'' an NFL source said Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

The schedule will be a bit different, though. With the addition of the Houston Texans, the NFL will have 32 teams grouped in eight four-team divisions.

When the schedule comes out, marquee Sunday games on CBS and Fox will not end up on TV Monday night as NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had hoped. The NFL apparently felt that a regional-interest game today could turn into one of national interest as the season played out.

But CBS and Fox were against the proposal from the start, citing the loss of a potentially competitive game.

CBS Sports president Sean McManus had no comment. Fox Sports Television Group chairman David Hill released a statement Tuesday, after two days of meetings with the NFL, saying:

``We had a free and frank exchange of views on the topic and we expect the schedule to be released later this week.''