On Monday, during the Spring League Meeting in Minneapolis, NFL clubs adopted a resolution that will allow flexible scheduling for Thursday Night Football games.
The measure was seemingly introduced to appease Amazon.
The company is paying about $1 billion annually for exclusive rights to broadcast Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime, their digital streaming platform.
TNF averaged 9.6 million viewers per game, about 3 million shy of what Amazon reportedly promised advertisers.
Flexible scheduling came up as an option for putting more late-season high-quality matchups on Amazon Prime.
Since it was mentioned publicly, the topic of Thursday night flexible scheduling has been the topic of some intense debates. When club owners previously met to discuss the issue, there was not enough support to pass the resolution.
The controversial policy led to criticism from fans, players, coaches, and owners.
The NFL was accused of being inconsiderate of fans and having little concern for player health and safety.
Because of the wording of the policy at the time, there was potential for some teams to end up with as many as three Thursday Night Football games on their schedule.
FLEX SCHEDULING GUIDELINES
The current verbiage of the resolution suggests that part of the basis for approval was the fact that Thursday Night Football was the only primetime package without flexible scheduling.
While that was a fact, there's also a big difference between moving a Sunday afternoon game to Sunday or Monday night as opposed to moving a Sunday afternoon game to earlier in the week on Thursday.
The “modified scheduling policy” for Thursday games will allow for TBD games and Sunday afternoon games to be moved to the Thursday Night Football timeslot.
If this were to happen, the game originally scheduled for Thursday Night Football would then be moved to a different timeslot during the week. It would probably be Sunday afternoon.
The approved resolution is slightly different than the original suggestion which allowed the NFL to flex games during Weeks 14-17 with 15 days notice.
Under the amended policy, in order to move a game to Thursday night, the following conditions must be met:
- Thursday night flex scheduling will only occur during Weeks 13 – 17.
- The League Office must give clubs at least 28 days notice of the schedule change.
- Clubs may appear in a maximum of seven primetime games within a regular season.
- Clubs may only have one Sunday game during the season switched to Thursday night.
- Clubs will play no more than two Thursday night games in total during the regular season.
- The League Office may only use the flexible scheduling option up to two times during the regular season.
This policy is being implemented on a short-term trial basis. It may be amended as early as next season.
HOW THE DALLAS COWBOYS' SCHEDULE COULD CHANGE
When discussing the potential impact of the previous version of this policy, I described a potential scenario where the Cowboys' Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills could be moved to Thursday night.
I still believe this could happen with the current version of the flexible scheduling policy.
Before, teams were limited to two “short weeks” in a season.
The current policy mentions a limit of two Thursday games with no mention of the length of the week.
With that stipulation, a couple of other games would also have to be moved in order for the Cowboys' schedule to be changed.
HOW FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING MIGHT HAPPEN FOR THE DALLAS COWBOYS
With the Thursday night flex scheduling window expanding to include Week 13, it's hard to believe the League Office and Amazon don't have a potential schedule change in mind for that week.
Currently, the Cowboys are scheduled to host the Seahawks on Thursday Night Football during Week 13.
But there's a Sunday afternoon game that week which might get a bit more buzz than the Cowboys game.
The San Francisco 49ers are scheduled to face the Philadelphia Eagles at 3:25 pm that Sunday.
It would basically be an NFC Conference Championship rematch sans the stakes. Depending on each team's trajectory by then, there may be a lot of hype surrounding that matchup.
Perhaps even enough hype to warrant moving the Cowboys game to Sunday and the Eagles – 49ers game to Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime.
If the Week 13 game is moved, that would free up the League Office to add a second Thursday game to the Cowboys' schedule.
I don't foresee Amazon passing up the opportunity to feature the NFL team that participated in four of the five highest-rated games in 2022.
Out of the remaining weeks, only Weeks 15 and 16 would be eligible for flexing based on the policy's criteria.
The Week 15 game against the Buffalo Bills is more likely to be selected than the Week 16 game against the Miami Dolphins.
So if a schedule change were to happen for the Cowboys, this is my best guess as to how it would happen.
PLAYER HEALTH AND SAFETY
There is still a lot to be said regarding the implications of the adoption of this resolution.
It is still seen by some as a sign that the NFL values revenue and corporate relationships over the well-being of players.
Commissioner Goodell has, of course, denied that. However, there has not been an adequate response to all concerns mentioned.
The League Office has cited studies that report fewer injuries during Thursday night games, but there has not been much discussion about the impact on overall recovery, injury aggravation, re-injury, or future injuries.
There has been no response to the concerns over the mental and emotional weight of short weeks, either.
It's also worth noting that the relationship between the NFL and Amazon goes beyond Thursday Night Football.
But that particular topic warrants a post of its own.