Come this fall there will be a new favorite to add to the list of channels you will be hopping to for Pac-12 football, and maybe several. Two new developments that have come out of Commissioner Larry Scott's office this week involve changes, and potential changes, even before the massive overhaul of media rights that is coming in another year.
Fox's FX channel is getting back into sports, and will air a minimum of 13 games this fall, some on Saturday afternoons, and some on Saturday evenings. The games will be selected from the Pac-12, Big XII, and Conference USA. Which team gets which game, and in which time slot, will depend on who is winning, how attractive the matchup is, and of course, the size of the projected audience, so long as it isn't too attractive, as those will be the games that get ABC's attention.
Some of this will come from the additional inventory that the Pac-12 has, with two additional teams, but the secondary affect is some of the games currently getting regional coverage on Fox Sports Network could find their way to a wider distribution.
Regardless of the exact details, it means some additional exposure for the Pac-12 nationally, and that ultimately will benefit all the schools, even if it isn't perfectly "even".
It's also another indicator that Fox is serious about retaining and expanding their position in the sports broadcasting marketplace, an important development in anticipation of dealing with the growing presence of Comcast, who will be a significant player when full-blown negotiations determine how the broadcast landscape will look going forward after another year.
The second development is much more nebulous, and in fact there's nothing firm about it yet, other than Scott's acknowledging that the Pac-12 is not only aware of, but being a proactive player in the bigger world. We're talking of course about Scott's statement that the conference is keeping close tabs on the situation with the NFL labor negotiations, and especially the possibility that the lack of an agreement may result in a lockout, and ultimately the loss of games. And the possibility that the Pac-12 could play some games on Sunday, filling the void left by the loss of NFL games.
This scenario seems really remote, as the amount of money at stake for all concerned in the NFL situation makes it hard to imagine that by fall time there won't be some resolution. It is entirely reasonable, however, to expect the problems to drag out until right up to time to start the season, as everyone attempts to maneuver for a bigger slice of the pie, with no real downside this side of Labor Day.
"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."
Scott and the Pac-12 is in the correct position on this one though, by being proactive to the possibilities that could develop. Somehow, you don't even imagine that Tom Hansen's administration would have had the thought cross their minds.
The challenge will be the eleventh hour nature of any such changes to the schedule, because it will need to be totally contingent on what the NFL does, as once they are back on the field, which could happen with only a few hours notice, the Pac-12 won't want to have games go dark, or disappear ratings wise. So you can't schedule the Utah-USC or Wasnington-Oregon St. games for a Sunday afternoon at this point. Even much closer to game week, it would have to be a sort of contingent schedule, with the possibility of switching back to Saturday.
That's no small deal logistically. A shift from a 12:30 kickoff to a 3:45 one is doable, because you have everybody and everything already at least committed to the afternoon. Change days and its a whole different situation.
"Sunday games would be something we would have to think long and hard about before we jumped into," Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne said.
If you are an NFL team, and own your own airplane, maybe you can make connections. And the stadiums and the league are in the business of doing this. But it takes hundreds of others to stage a football game, and around colleges, and college towns, it's already a big enough deal, and not business as usual. It's not even a small town situation, as Husky fans already bristle at the idea of night games in Seattle.
Getting into Chicago or Dallas on a different day is not the same as getting to or from Pullman or Tucson on a fluid schedule.
Thursday night games and bowl games on any day of the week are things we take for granted now, though their remains considerable resistance to even these moves. And those are scheduled well in advance, which is the difference.
It's not just the teams and fans flights and motel reservations that are a problem either.
An often overlooked issue in all the hue and cry over getting games covered is the logistics of actually getting the game covered, which requires the limited resources that are those semi loads of equipment setting behind the stadium.
"Can a network have the flexibility to accommodate a last minute change of scheduling?" Patrick Rishe, of Sportsimpacts.net, a sports consulting firm that specializes in marketing research and economic impact studies for sporting events said. "And what does that do to the cost?"
"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. But they would 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."
"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."
It could well be that the contingency costs could out-strip the benefits. But if we have learned anything from Commissioner Scott, we had better keep our schedules open, and a travel bag packed!