Posted by Andy Benoit
In its nearly eight years of existence and four years of broadcasting live games, NFL Network has drawn plenty of external and internal criticism.
The external criticism has been from fans who subscribe to non-dish cable services and, for many years, have been unable to receive the channel as part of their basic programming package (the unavailability was a consequence of the NFL and cable providers – most notably Comcast – bickering about the channel’s price).
The internal criticism is less publicized but perhaps more damaging to the league. The eight-game Thursday night package is rumored to be costing the NFL hundreds of millions in lost revenue (considering the package could have been sold to another network like Versus or Turner). What’s more, many teams privately disdain having to play on a Thursday night, especially on the road.
Expect that disdain to manifest. This year’s NFL Network schedule contains three uncommonly brutal scheduling snafus.
In the Week 11 Thursday package opener, the New York Jets must fly across the country to face the Denver Broncos. Exacerbating the Jets’ travels is the fact that they host the Patriots in the Week 10 Sunday night game. The Jets players won’t even leave the Meadowlands until well after midnight Sunday night. The coaches might not leave the Meadowlands period.
In Week 11, the 49ers must fly across the country to face the Ravens on a short week. (John Harbaugh, by the way, has been privately clamoring for a primetime home game for several years; the Ravens often get stuck on the road for night games.) This isn’t an atrocious scheduling blunder, especially given that the league wants to trumpet the Harbaugh Brothers matchup on the ultimate family holiday. But a west coast to east coast trip on a short week? Iffy.
It gets worse. The Eagles host the Patriots at 4:15 in Philly in Week 12 and then travel to Seattle for a Week 13 Thursday night matchup. That’s a late start preceding a cross-country trip that is already outrageously unfair in the first place. What’s more, the Seahawks get to play at home in Week 12. In a more just world, Seattle would at least be on the road in Week 12 so that both the Seahawks and Eagles would have some sort of travel in the short time leading up to their Week 13 contest.
Instead, the Eagles will lose one of their three days of prep time to dealing with the hassles of travel and adjusting to a three-hour time zone change. The Seahawks will be comfortable at home for all three days of prep time, thus ensuring 50 percent more prep time than their opponent (two days the Eagles, three days for the Seahawks). This same issue occurs with the Ravens-Niners game, by the way.
To be fair, the NFL got it right with it’s Week 14 Thursday matchup (Cleveland @ Pittsburgh) and especially with its Week 15 matchup (Jacksonville @ Atlanta). The Jacksonville-Atlanta matchup is a.) short travel for the Jags and b.) a non-conference game, making the more difficult short week slightly less impactful on the standings.
Obviously, the league is not trying to bilk any teams. Scheduling is complex and impacted by many unseen factors (stadium availability, team requests, etc.) Certainly the league took travel concerns into consideration.
That said, to appease teams and ensure fairness, the NFL may want to consider a time zone rule with the Thursday night package (something along the lines of “no team shall have to travel more than one time zone away for a Thursday game”). Or, as the league has always done with the Thanksgiving games, ensure that any team playing on Thursday at least gets the earliest possible kickoff time for their previous week’s game on Sunday.
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