The National Football League is scrambling to figure out scheduling for its 2013 season opener, which will hopefully feature the Baltimore Ravens hosting a grand FOOTBALL! celebration at M&T Bank Stadium.
But there's Major League Baseball standing in the way saying, in its best Ian McKellen voice, "You shall not pass!"
An unstoppable force against an immovable object? Nah. More like an unstoppable force against an object that has damn good reasons to hold its ground, and MLB should only get out of the NFL's way once the big, bad football people decide to play nice.
Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun summed up the scenario on Tuesday. As the defending Super Bowl champs, the Ravens have the right to kick off the next NFL season at their house with all the fixings: live music, prime-time television hoopla, J.J. Abrams lens flares, you name it.
But zounds! The Baltimore Orioles are already slated to play a 7:05 PM tilt at Oriole Park at Camden Yards against the Chicago White Sox on the same date the NFL is eyeing for its opener: September 5. Their home park and the Ravens' home park are right next to each other, and there's not enough parking to go around for the two of them.
Something is going to have to give, and to that end the focus is squarely on baseball. In light of the huge advantage in popularity the NFL has over MLB, baseball is the underdog here that is surely destined to lose this fight, right?
My extreme love of baseball admittedly makes me more than a little biased, but I say screw that. MLB doesn't owe the NFL any favors, and there should be no mistaking that a favor is exactly what the NFL is asking for.
That much is apparent when reading the quotes from the key figures on the NFL side of the equation, such as this one from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
I have called (MLB Commissioner) Bud Selig twice and spoken to him about that. We are trying to work out an accommodation to allow the Orioles’ game to happen earlier in the afternoon and the Ravens to celebrate their Super Bowl championship with their fans at home on Thursday night. We think that is the right thing. We have agreed to move the game a little bit later in the evening to try to accommodate the baseball game.
As a kid who grew up as an Orioles fan, to have the Orioles game in the afternoon and then go to the Ravens’ Super Bowl championship celebration for the kickoff game will be a great day. We hope that is the way it will happen.
I added the italics to the two passages because there's something missing from them. When Goodell was talking about the Orioles playing earlier so the Ravens can play later, what he really meant to say is that it would be the right thing "for us." He also forgot to add "for us" after "will be a great day."
From a dollars-and-cents perspective, after all, that evening time slot is kinda important for the NFL. The game would surely still be able to draw fans if it were to be played in the afternoon instead of the evening, but the only time to televise an NFL season opener is prime time, darn it. A prime-time slot is absolutely imperative because, well, it's FOOTBALL!
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was more honest about the situation, acknowledging that the Ravens and the NFL are "trying to dump a pretty big problem" on MLB, the Orioles and club owner Peter Angelos. But he also let his frustration leak through.
"The bottom line is if they wanted to do it, they would find a way to do it," said Bisciotti.
He also said: "I don’t know how much goodwill we’ve built up at both the league level and the team level. I hope it’s enough that [the Orioles] say, ‘This is a good thing to bend over backwards to accommodate them.' "
Translation: MLB and the Orioles are being stubborn. But they should really stop being stubborn, because we're the good guys and they need to realize that they're being big meanies by not getting out of the way of FOOTBALL!
But MLB and the Orioles aren't being stubborn. They're just being practical. In this situation, they have every right to say a) "Hey, we were here first" and b) "It's a heck of a lot easier for you guys to compromise than it is for us to compromise."
The schedule for the 2013 MLB season has been set in stone for months. It was first released in September, and right then and there were the Orioles and White Sox slated to play at 7:05 pm on September 5.
Baseball games can be rescheduled, but that's asking a lot in this situation. From their dollars-and-cents perspective, MLB and the Orioles should be worried about missing out on attendance revenue by turning a night game into a day game. Katy Feeney, MLB’s senior vice president for club relations and scheduling, also cautioned that both the Orioles and White Sox would be feeling some broadcast revenue pain.
The much, much bigger concern, however, has to do with the baseball side of things.
Both the Orioles and the White Sox will be traveling the night before, the Orioles from Cleveland and the White Sox from New York. Playing a day game the next day rather than a night game is unfair for both clubs, especially in a month like September.
September's not a good month for altering things in baseball. That's pennant race time, and both the Orioles and the White Sox should have their eyes on being in the race this year after what they did in 2012. The Orioles won 93 games and made the playoffs. The White Sox were leading the AL Central race right up until the bitter end.
Because the series between the Orioles and White Sox could very well have pennant race implications, a double-header the next day on Friday or over the weekend would also present problems. Double-headers are taxing, and players only have so much gas left at that point in the season. Double-headers also present pitching dilemmas, and clubs don't need those in September.
The situation would be totally different if NFL was asking MLB to move pennant race baseball to accommodate a late-season game with playoff implications or a postseason game, but that's not the case here. This is an unprecedented situation, and it amounts to the NFL asking MLB to accommodate a silly tradition that was just thought up a few years ago.
Thursday openers feel like a mainstay in the fabric of the NFL, but the league has only been doing it since 2002. The openers didn't start featuring the defending Super Bowl champs until 2004.
Thus, like seemingly every other tradition the NFL has, the Thursday opener is too young to be anything sacred. It can be moved.
Indeed, we know for a fact that the game can be moved. The 2008 season opener between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants was rescheduled to an earlier time so as to avoid a conflict with John McCain's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Last year's opener between the Giants and Dallas Cowboys was played on a Wednesday so as to avoid a conflict with a speech Barack Obama was slated to give at the Democratic National Convention.
The word is that the NFL doesn't want to do another Wednesday night game because it doesn't want to conflict with the first night of Rosh Hashanah. That's a noble gesture, to be sure, but where was this gesture last year when the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions played a Sunday night game on the first night of Rosh Hashanah? Why wasn't that game moved?
I'm sure that Selig, Angelos and everyone else on the MLB side of this skirmish has already asked this question. I'm also sure that they've pointed out that there's always Monday night, Tuesday night, Friday night or even Saturday night if the NFL doesn't want to do Wednesday.
Or the Ravens—gasp!—could just play on the road. The latest word from The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday is that this could very well happen if something with MLB can't be worked out.
Whatever the solution, it's up to the NFL to figure it out, not MLB and the Orioles. And if the NFL is really, really, really committed to playing in Baltimore on the night of September 5, well, then it's still up to the NFL to make it happen.
Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports (h/t Hardball Talk) thinks the NFL can figure things out by flexing its muscles. He at first makes it sound like that's a matter of Goodell sending Luca Brasi out to break some kneecaps, but what it really comes down to is Silver suggesting that baseball should "take some money from Uncle Roger's slush fund and do what needs to be done."
That would indeed be a compromise on MLB's part, but not necessarily a defeat. Not if MLB, the Orioles and the White Sox get enough cash from Uncle Roger's slush fund for their troubles. Not if they come out ahead and leave the NFL scowling at lost cash.
If the NFL is willing to resort to its pockets to make something happen, those on the baseball side of this dispute should make the NFL empty its pockets and pay through the nose. Bisciotti is apparently willing to compensate the Orioles for any lost revenues resulting from a rescheduling, which is a start, but not good enough if I'm Selig, the Orioles and the White Sox.
Since a weekend double-header is the only realistic scheduling change that can be made, I'm making the Ravens and the NFL pay for the whole operation. And if both games aren't sellouts, I'm making the football guys buy up the remaining tickets.
Beyond that, I'm making the NFL compensate all Orioles and White Sox players, coaches and executives for their troubles. Free tickets to the big game, perhaps, but only if those were to be permitted to be resold elsewhere.
The Ravens and the NFL will say no, no, no, but they can afford it. The Ravens checked in as the 11th-most valuable team in the NFL on Forbes' 2012 rankings, and the word from CNN Money is that the NFL made close to $10 billion in revenue in 2012.
The message from Selig and Angelos to the NFL should be: "You want Thursday night? Really, really want it? Then pay up, suckers. We both know you're good for it."
Only then should the game between the Orioles and White Sox be rescheduled. It should be moved not when baseball blinks, but when football blinks.
The NFL can have Thursday night, but only if it sends MLB, the Orioles and the White Sox laughing all the way to the bank first.
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