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Why doesn’t the NFL stagger Sunday games like March Madness?

In covering the NFL full-time, I feel I’ve heard/proposed/debated pretty much all of the realistic and not-so-realistic possibilities regarding the layout of the league’s weekly TV schedule.

We’ve analyzed the Thursday night slot ad nauseam and have discussed why Saturday won’t work (in order to protect the NFL’s free farm system, college football). We’ve discussed potential Sunday night and Monday night doubleheaders, and we’ve talked about how Fridays are generally a wasteland for television viewership. So stay away, right? Plus, that’a s high school football night.

Sundays are the NFL’s domain. It’s when everyone knows pro football will be on TV, at least if it’s between September and January. That’s good for the league, and unprecedented ratings are the proof in that pudding.

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But once in a while, you get hit with an idea so intriguing yet so obvious that you wonder how it took so long to come to the surface.

That happened to me on Monday, when a blog called Lower the Mound proposed that the NFL merely tweak its Sunday schedule by staggering games, a la the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Their proposal is to start a game every hour on the hour between 11 a.m. ET and 10 p.m. ET every Sunday, with one game on Thursday and three on Monday night. That load would be lighter during the bye week window, which lasts about half the season.

Three games on Monday night will never happen, at least not while current TV deals are in place. And Sunday nights won’t become crowded. ESPN and NBC pay for exclusivity, bluntly or indirectly. So the schedule pitched by Lower the Mound may be a little too ambitious, but what if the league found a happy medium?

What about something like this?

Game 1: Thursday night (CBS or NFL Network)
Game 2: Sunday, 10 a.m. ET from London, England (Fox)
Game 3: 12:00 ET (CBS)
Game 4: 12:30 ET (Fox)
Game 5: 1:00 ET (CBS)
Game 6 : 1:30 ET (Fox)
Game 7: 2:00 ET (CBS)
Game 8: 2:30 ET (Fox)
Game 9: 3:00 ET (CBS)
Game 10: 3:30 ET (Fox)
Game 11: 4:00 ET (CBS)
Game 12: 4:30 ET (Fox)
Game 13: 5:00 ET (CBS)
Game 14: 5:30 ET (Fox)
Game 15: 8:30 ET (NBC)
Game 16: Monday, 8:30 ET (ESPN)

Morning games probably aren’t in the cards, but the league could make it so that eight London games (inevitable) will take place on Sunday afternoons, rather than Sunday nights, back in the UK (something that’s already in the works). And those games can be scheduled, generally, for weeks in which there aren’t byes. And in weeks in which you get down to 13 or 14 games, you remove the noon start and/or the 5:30 kickoff.

Yes, this would make it impossible for networks to sync up halftime show broadcasts, but how hard would it be for Curt, Jimmy, Terry, Howie and Michael to come on air six separate times, once an hour, between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET?

Besides, there’s no way the league would decide against such a format simply to save halftime shows, which are growing increasingly irrelevant.

This seems incredibly obvious. CBS and Fox can still store top games in the later timeslots in order to capitalize on demand, and the system would give each network a chance to essentially have a national window for the fourth quarter of every single game. Lags here and there would bring two games together, but we’d eliminate that 3:45-4:15 sprint while getting rid of pretty much every lull that exists under the current format.

What do you think – could the staggered March Madness TV schedule work for the NFL?

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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