Sports Outside the Beltway

Flexible Scheduling for Sunday Night Football

The NFL has given the networks the flexibility to drop some stinker Sunday night games.

The NFL has its plan for eliminating those not-ready-for-prime-time matchups that too often sneaked onto national television. The league plans to hold off scheduling Sunday night games in seven of the final eight weeks — just as playoff races start heating up — to ensure the best games are played on NBC. The league has long wanted some kind of flexible scheduling, but could never implement one until now.

For Weeks 10-15 and Week 17, the final regular-season weekend, all Sunday games will be listed with start times of 1 p.m. or 4:05-4:15 p.m. EST. The league must then announce which match will be played Sunday night at least 12 days before the date of the game. The lone exception is the season finale on Dec. 31, when the switch must be made no later than six days before the game.

Only Sunday games are subject to the flexible schedule that is part of the NFL’s $3.6 billion contract with NBC for the Sunday night package. CBS, which does the AFC games, and Fox, which does the NFC, each has the option to protect five games in the seven weeks of flexible scheduling, but can’t protect more than one game per week. So if Indianapolis is playing Pittsburgh in a late-season game and CBS does not want it moved to Sunday night on NBC, it has an option to keep the game.

It’s hard to argue against this, as this has long been the norm for the college game. Sure, this makes it a pain for fans who are traveling to see games but, c’mon, twelve days’ notice is enough. I would suggest refundable tickets, though.

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