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NBC Gets Some Flex

Start times for late-season NFL games will be changed to accommodate Sunday night telecasts, but restrictions apply

September 01, 2006|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

"Flex schedule" has worked its way into the football lexicon, and it has nothing to do with a training-room regimen.

It refers to the flexibility NBC has been given by the NFL in scheduling late-season games for its Sunday night telecasts.

Flexible scheduling will be in effect for Weeks 10 to 15 and again in Week 17, the final week of the regular season. It will not be in effect for Week 16 because of Christmas. That Sunday is Dec. 24.

Just as colleges have done for years, start times will be changed to accommodate television. The difference is, only two teams will be affected each week -- one game will be moved from the daytime on a Sunday to a 5:15 PST start.

For Weeks 10 to 15, NBC will select a game 12 days in advance. In Week 17, NBC can select a game with only six days' notice, thus ensuring a game with playoff implications.

Being stuck with bad games late in the season plagued ABC's "Monday Night Football" telecasts the last three seasons.

Of the 12 games encompassing the final four weeks in each of those seasons, only one was a matchup of teams with winning records.

Dick Ebersol, NBC Sports chairman, said that typically about 45% of games near the end of the season match teams with winning or break-even records. " 'Monday Night Football' just had more than its share of bad luck," he said.

ABC sought -- but never received -- flexible scheduling for "Monday Night Football," and when ESPN picked up the telecast for $8.8 billion over eight years, it didn't get flexible scheduling either. But NBC got it as part of its six-year, $3.6-billion contract for Sunday night because the NFL reasoned that changing a game time on the same day was less problematic than changing to a different day.

Joe Theismann, who will work as a commentator in ESPN's "Monday Night Football" booth, said, "Is it fair that we're locked into a certain schedule? We know what we have. And you sit right now and sort of look into the crystal ball and you can say these are the teams that are probably going to represent in the NFC and these are the team that are going to represent in the AFC. We have a lot of these teams on our network."

As for the switches on Sunday, the NFL will allow CBS and Fox, which televise day games, to protect a total of five games over the seven weeks that flexible scheduling is in effect. Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration for being moved to Sunday night.

Asked whether flexible scheduling would be much of an advantage for NBC, ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson said, "I think in theory it seems like something that might be advantageous. I'm not 100% sure it can be, because each of the networks will protect that really special game.

"If we have a 24-21 game with six minutes to go, no matter who is playing people are going to watch."

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