March 29, 2011

Great Scott! Pac-12 may play on Sundays

For Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, the possibilities are endless in his quest to make his league more relevant nationally.

That's why Scott has given thought to playing some of his league's games on Sundays this fall should the NFL season not be played because of labor strife.

"We certainly are monitoring the situation," Scott said. "We have no plans in place at this time, but you want to be prepared and consider all options. Still, these labor situations have a way of getting done the closer they get to a critical situation."

Should the NFL's labor unrest push into the season, it would create a big void on the nation's TV airwaves. Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN carry NFL games, with Fox and CBS carrying the bulk of the action. What type of programming would those networks run if the NFL wasn't in action? John Ourand, media reporter for SportsBusiness Daily, doesn't think the networks will have an issue filling the time.

"Fox and CBS hold the rights to plenty of other programming," he said. "Fox can move programming from its sports channels [Fox Soccer, Fuel, Speed]. CBS can move programming from its CBS College Sports channel.

"Plus, networks can throw on programming from their library. That's what NBC did last year when a snowstorm in Philadelphia canceled a Sunday night game."

NBC showed "Minute to Win it" and "Law & Order: SVU" in place of the NFL game. But the move resulted in an 82 percent drop in ratings (21.8 million viewers to 3.9).

"We know the parameters if there is a lockout. We understand our obligations. We haven't made any alternate programming plans right now," Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports, told the SportsBusiness Daily. "When presented with whatever scenario develops, we will adjust. But right now, we're not making any contingency plans or any thoughts of next season without football. We're hoping that in early September, we're once again carrying the NFL on CBS."

Should a major network call a school or conference and offer the chance to play in a prime TV spot, it may be tempting.

"We haven't had anybody approach us with that," Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said. "Thursday night football hasn't been around forever, and we adjusted to that. Sunday is a day a lot of people look to watch football. You would get good exposure.

"But Sunday games would be something we would have to think long and hard about before we jumped into."

Indeed, fans and alums long have been conditioned to playing on Saturdays, with weekend activities revolving around that day of the week.

"From the school's perspective, they had better be careful," said Patrick Rishe, an associate professor of economics at Webster University in St. Louis and the founder of Sportsimpacts.net, a sports consulting firm that specializes in marketing research and economic-impact studies for sporting events. "Don't schedule or move any games at this point. Because, if you do and then at the last minute the NFL saves its first week of games, then your game is going to get drowned out by the NFL's games. You don't want that.

"Now, I could see a scenario where two schools could -- as a supplemental plan -- try to have a Sunday afternoon/evening game conditional upon the NFL still not operating."

Rishe offers the Utah at USC game scheduled for Sept. 10 as a potential example.

"It could be a great opportunity for the newly formed Pac-12 conference to bang its drum and gain some added exposure for its new brand identity and for a new conference member," he said. "But even then, you've got some issues to deal with."

Chief among them being, Rishe said, is working out the TV logistics. Can a network have the flexibility to accommodate a last-minute change of scheduling? The schools also would have to work out the fan logistics, as some ticket-holders may not have the flexibility to make last-minute change of plans.

"From the network's perspective, I'm sure they would welcome the programming opportunity if they knew the NFL was not going to play," Rishe said. "But, again, they'd have to be prepared to compensate the schools in question handsomely because a shift from Saturday to Sunday -- even if just for a week or two -- causes logistical issues for fans and their travel plans. And it's not as though you can announce these things months in advance because as we've seen, the NFL and NFLPA could resolve their dispute in the last minute."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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