After a lot of criticism, the NFL has finally changed its stance on forcing NBC to use their “A” broadcast team for Thursday Night Football, which will let Mike Tirico call those games on a consistent basis this year. Last year, the NFL cited a rule that the TNF networks must use their top broadcast teams, meaning we got a lot of Sunday Night Football announcer Al Michaels pulling double duty and Tirico left on the outside. Tirico eventually did a few late-season TNF games after filling in on some SNF games (loopholes are fun!), but the league has generously allowed NBC to avoid that runaround this year. Here’s their statement, via Sports Business Daily‘s John Ourand:
In a statement emailed to THE DAILY, an NFL spokesperson said, “Although there have been a number of changes in the networks’ broadcast booths over the past couple of seasons, our priority, and the priority of our network partners remains the same – produce a high quality, engaging broadcast that our fans love whether its Thursday, Sunday or Monday. For ‘TNF,’ we get that with Mike Tirico, a terrific broadcaster, and Cris Collinsworth at NBC and the new team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo at CBS.”
Nice misuse of “its” instead of “it’s” there, NFL, but beyond that, this is a sensible decision. There’s no dispute of Tirico’s ability to call a prime-time NFL game; he did that on ESPN’s Monday Night Football from 2006-2015. And it would have made much more sense to have him do Thursdays and Michaels do Sundays last year; that keeps the 72-year-old Michaels fresher for his Sunday work and makes Thursday night feel a little different. The idea of the NFL (rather than its broadcasters) deciding who is and isn’t qualified to call its games, especially when it comes to an obviously-qualified broadcaster like Tirico, is also hilariously unnecessary micromanagement, and it’s good they’ve finally gotten over that.
This is the right decision for NBC, allowing Michaels some rest and giving the 50-year-old Tirico some more reps (as he’s presumably the long-term plan for SNF announcer once Michaels retires). It’s the right decision for the NFL, deciding to stop locking a qualified broadcaster out of Thursdays and producing perhaps a more energetic and informed broadcast on both nights by not making the play-by-play man do two games in four days. The only amazing thing is that it took so long to figure this out, as it should have been an obvious call to make last year. Better late than never, but the NBC Thursday night drama created last year still is something that reflects poorly on the NFL, even if they’ve fixed it now.