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Tramel: NFL likely to play Saturday games if college season goes dark

The college football season seems to sit on the brink of collapse. The headwinds are blowing towards a postponement of the 2020 season until perhaps spring 2021, because of the pandemic.

But if college football indeed plugs the pull on having a season, that doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t have football in the autumn. The NFL could stand in the void.

As early as April, the NFL reportedly was looking at Saturday games, should the college season be canceled. And over the weekend, when the Mid-American Conference canceled fall sports, increasing speculation that even the Power 5 conferences would do the same, the NFL/Saturday possibility rose again.

Profootballtalk.com reported Saturday that the NFL likely would move games to Saturday, if college gridirons are empty on their traditional day.

What’s not clear is how the NFL would distribute those games. The easiest way would be adjusted contracts with their current broadcast partners, the television networks.

Some have speculated that the NFL could put Saturday games on a streaming service or pay-per-view, but doing that outside the realm of NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN would damage the viewership of those networks. Moving a Patriots game, for example, to pay-per-view or streaming would mean fewer New England eyeballs for the networks. That is content the networks have paid for. Hard to see pay-per-view or streaming working without the networks being involved or being compensated for their loss.

A more traditional arrangement would be Saturday tripleheaders. Early afternoon, late afternoon, night.

How to divide those windows among the four networks, and how much extra they pay, would have to be negotiated.

Or how about this idea: NFL quadrupleheaders. Start at noon back East, 11 a.m. Oklahoma time. Play just like we do in college: 11 a.m., 2:30 p.m., 6 p.m., 9:30 p.m., with West Coast games.

NFL games finish in a more timely manner than do college games, so you could go 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 8 p.m. That would mean a 9 p.m. Eastern start and catch a lot more viewers. It also would bring Central Time zone kickoffs into play – Dallas or Kansas City or Chicago starting at 8 p.m. Saturday is not a crazy kickoff time.

Four windows, four networks. Rotate them, giving each access to the preferred slots. Or sell them all to the highest bidder(s).

Of course, all this is dependent on the NFL season managing to launch. But most people think it will. The NFL has myriad coronavirus problems, but appearance is not one of them. The NFL is a business and has never said it’s not.

Profootballtalk.com also reported that the NFL would “need a one-year dispensation from the broadcast antitrust exemption, which allows the NFL to sell TV rights in a league-wide bundle but prevents the NFL from televising games on Friday or Saturday from Labor Day through early December.”

Such approval would seem to be easily obtained. The exemption is to allow college football to thrive on Saturdays. Increasingly, that looks unlikely in 2020.

Related Photos
FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2019, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Atlanta. Ryan joined other Falcons players in a video that noted the legacy of the civil rights icon John Lewis, whose death last month reacquainted Americans with an enormously consequential figure in the fight for voting rights and social justice. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2019, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Atlanta. Ryan joined other Falcons players in a video that noted the legacy of the civil rights icon John Lewis,...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2ad00d75b640a14dda249b95513351a8.jpg" alt="Photo - FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2019, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Atlanta. Ryan joined other Falcons players in a video that noted the legacy of the civil rights icon John Lewis, whose death last month reacquainted Americans with an enormously consequential figure in the fight for voting rights and social justice. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)" title="FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2019, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Atlanta. Ryan joined other Falcons players in a video that noted the legacy of the civil rights icon John Lewis, whose death last month reacquainted Americans with an enormously consequential figure in the fight for voting rights and social justice. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)"><figcaption>FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2019, file photo, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Atlanta. Ryan joined other Falcons players in a video that noted the legacy of the civil rights icon John Lewis, whose death last month reacquainted Americans with an enormously consequential figure in the fight for voting rights and social justice. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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