This was supposed to be Masters week on CBS. But the tournament, like nearly every other sports event in America, was postponed amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, and its future date remained up in the air.
Well, that uncertainty has somewhat been lifted today. On Monday, the Masters announced that it was aiming for the week of November 9th-15th for the 2020 tournament, two weeks before Thanksgiving, right in the heart of the NFL season, and near the end of the college football season.
Statement from Chairman Ridley:
"We have identified Nov 9-15 as the intended dates to host the 2020 Masters. We hope the anticipation of staging the Tournament brings a moment of joy to the Augusta community and those who love the game."
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 6, 2020
From the media side, this represents a unique issue for CBS (assuming we don’t have more postponements in the fall): too much live sports content. At its rescheduled date, the Masters would take place during Week 11 of the 2020 college football season, and during Week 10 of the NFL season. CBS still has the SEC Saturday package this fall (assuming ESPN doesn’t buy them out leading into their new deal with the SEC, which doesn’t seem like much of a possibility because of the tightening of purse strings during the pandemic), and of course has the NFL’s AFC package.
The good news for CBS is that the SEC’s schedule for Week 11 does not have many marquee games. The best of the bunch are South Carolina-LSU and Tennessee-Georgia, clearly appealing games, but not ones that are can’t miss. Auburn and Alabama each play non-conference cupcakes, and Florida hosts Missouri. This is actually a good thing for CBS, given that Week 10 has Alabama-LSU and Week 12 has LSU-Auburn. Imagine having to play scheduling with one of *those* games.
However, the NFL window in Week 10 represents a much more bigger issue for CBS. The NFL hasn’t released its schedule for the 2020 season yet, but Week 10 is typically one of the weeks with fewer games than the rest. In 2019, six teams had byes during Week 10, and with the three primetime games on the schedule, there were just ten games during the day on Sunday, five for each CBS and Fox. How can you somehow broadcast the final round of the Masters along with a chunk of NFL coverage?
The easy answer is to nudge the Masters and Augusta National to tweak their schedule. Instead of getting crushed by the NFL head to head on Sunday, why not play the tournament from Wednesday-Saturday? This leaves Sunday open for CBS to air its regular slate of NFL games, and as for Saturday, perhaps CBS could nudge the Masters into starting what would (under this plan, at least) be the final round at noon.
If the Masters doesn’t want to play ball….hoo boy, it could be rough going for CBS. Would the Masters really want to go head to head with the NFL on Sunday, and possibly force CBS to drastically alter its coverage of the NFL? CBS would be forced to walk a tightrope in appeasing both the NFL (whose TV deal with CBS ends after the 2022 season) and the Masters (who negotiate TV deals on a year to year basis), which is no easy feat.
We’ll just have to play the waiting game here. There are more “ifs” here than in the typical article, but they’re justified: we don’t know “if” the Masters will actually take place in November, we don’t know “if” the college football season will happen, and we don’t know “if” the NFL season will happen. You’d imagine that all three will be tied together and if one happens, all three will happen, but if none of them do, CBS will have far bigger issues than they will if all three take place at the same time.