Imagining a Brand-New NFL Television Schedule For the Fall
College football won't happen in the fall unless students have been able to safely return to their respective campuses. The NFL doesn't have to clear that particular logistical hurdle, so it can focus on the other 3,000 issues. So there exists a possibility that there's only professional ball when the leaves turn.
If that happens, it won't necessarily be a good thing for the NFL as teams would have no way to scout prospects. A delay or cancellation could also mess with the timeframe for the 2021 draft. College football is not a head-to-head competitor so it's not as though the NFL's viewership would skyrocket without Saturday football.
Unless, of course, they devised a devilish plan to capitalize on the empty market by spreading out their product over long weekends, which they've already begun doing. The New York Post reports that vacant Saturdays would be considered in addition to the usual Thursday, Sunday, and Monday time slots.
What might a weekly television schedule look like? I took it upon myself to put together a proposal that's a bit more bold than the conventional wisdom -- and therefore not entirely realistic.
Game 1: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
Let's be honest here. Weeknight football games that end after 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast alienate younger viewers. There will be less of a need to schedule them after traditional work hours on the West Coast with work-from-home becoming more normal. It's 80 fewer minutes people have to wait to get their football fix and that can't be a bad thing with the audience so desperate to get going.
Game 2: Friday, 8 p.m.
There's long been reticence to infringe on the hallowed Friday Night Lights by the big boys, but college football has become so ubiquitous on the day that the idea of Friday belonging to high school feels like a relic of the past. Friday nights are also notorious ghost towns in the programming department so a live NFL game would be an insane upgrade. If we're playing make-believe anyway, this broadcast would be the fun one. A time to really let the hair out and embrace the bizarreness of the situation.
Game 3: Saturday, noon
Again, no reason to wait an hour until traditional afternoon kick. Hell, I wouldn't be opposed if they experimented with morning ball, though that could be a bit of a quick turnaround.
Game 4: Saturday, 4 p.m.
There's some serious debate to be had about the importance of overlapping games. Knowing that a 31-7 blowout could be saved by a new contest coming on mid-game is a comforting feeling. The downside of more stand-alone games is how much everyone can feel the momentum die when the intrigue does. I could be convinced in starting this one at 3 p.m. but would prefer to keep the RedZone-ish stuff on Sundays.
Game 5: Saturday, 8 p.m.
It will be refreshing to not have fans bitching and moaning that their teams never get any national television love. People will become intimately acquainted with the Detroit Lions' special teams units. What a world.
Games 6-10: Sunday, 1 p.m.
It is crucial that Sundays still feel like Sundays. My preference could be to keep things extremely busy for Scott Hanson and company all day. Of course, there must be an even distribution between the early and late windows.
Games 11-14: Sunday, 4 p.m.
Self-explanatory. Although let me say that on weeks with byes, the first window to be dropped would be the early Saturday game, then the afternoon game. The other spots stay no matter what.
Game 15: Sunday 8 p.m.
Is the NFL really recession- and depression-proof? We'll find out if the buzz is still there after all these hours of coverage. My gut says yes.
Game 16: Monday, 7 p.m.
Monday Night Football but, again, 80 minutes or so earlier. It can't hurt.
The biggest concern, it would seem, with spacing things out like this is putting together a responsible schedule so that teams are not constantly dealing with unorthodox turn-around times. Playing five out of seven days would seem to complicate that. But the league appears set to play four out of those five days anyway, in a year where compiling the basics like who play whom where has never been more complicated.
It is definitely unsettled science as to how saturating the market with solitary games would impact traditional Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night broadcast interest. My gut feeling is that networks would desperately covet the additional Friday and Saturday primetime slots to guard against any dip via fatigue.