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Browns preseason dilemma shows the perils of NFL scheduling

Apr 17, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi

The Morning Kickoff …

Can the NFL get any bigger?: There are numerous examples of why the NFL is the envy of every professional sports league, but none drives it home harder than tonight’s “big event.”

We’re talking about the release of the complete NFL regular-season schedule.

Every other sports league merely emails media outlets a copy of its coming season schedule. The NFL commands, and receives, special time slots in prime time on two cable networks – its own NFL Network and ESPN – to unveil its schedule.

NFL Network, naturally, gets the story first, beginning at 7 p.m. Not to be outdone, ESPN will lift the curtain shortly thereafter and follow up with exhaustive team-by-team analysis for two hours.

It seems that this schedule “event” first was created by the NCAA basketball tournament. But at least the tournament’s four regional brackets are unveiled shortly after the last of the (now) 68 teams qualify for “the big dance.”

NFL teams have known their home and away opponents since the conclusion of the 2011 season on Jan. 1. The genius of delaying the official dates and times of each team’s games is that it heightens anticipation.

A negative byproduct is it puts fans’ travel plans on hold and causes a mad rush to airline and hotel Websites all at once. (Good luck finding a hotel room in Green Bay, Wisc., 24 hours after the Packers’ schedule is revealed.)

But there are also logistical hurdles to cross before the 256-game schedule can be patched together. Stadium availability and network preferences are the primary ones.

Browns snafu: The Browns’ preseason schedule offers a good example of how one conflict can cause months of headaches.

The Browns’ first preseason game at Detroit has been set for Saturday, Aug. 11, for quite some time. But the full exhibition schedule was held for tonight’s release because the date caused major problems for Browns preseason partner WKYC-TV3 that couldn’t be worked out until recently.

WKYC, an NBC affiliate, is committed to carrying the Summer Olympics. Aug. 11 is the second-to-last day of the Olympics. The jam-packed schedule that night includes numerous track and field finals, the women’s basketball gold medal game and the men’s field hockey gold medal game. So WKYC can’t show the Browns game on that night.

The home team controls the date and time of preseason games, but the Lions were locked into Aug. 11 because of their own logistical issues and declined to move the start time to the afternoon to accommodate WKYC.

The Browns declined to have the game aired on a delayed basis. WKYC, which is contractually obligated to produce the broadcast, had to offer the game to a competing station. It worked out an agreement to air it on WOIO Channel 19.

Now, the first preseason game historically draws the biggest audience because fans are so eager to get their first look at the new Browns team. The kicker to WKYC is that the Browns exhibition game on Channel 19 likely will dwarf the ratings garnered by the Olympics on that night.

Just another reason why the NFL is king.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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