The NFL is a part of the entertainment industry. While many may focus on the entertainment aspect of that statement, the business of the NFL has always been the primary focus. Not parity, not fairness, and not “doing what is right.”
There is a ton of proof that the NFL has put the bottom line over almost anything else over and over again. Simply looking at the rule changes made to give offenses more freedom to be fun and more difficult for defenses to control games is enough proof, but it can be found in other subtle ways as well.
One of them happened during the Wild Card playoffs. Actually, before the playoffs when the schedules were decided for the games that weekend.
In order to garner more attention, the NFL scheduled one game to be played on Monday night with the other five games taking place between Saturday and Sunday. The decision to have a standalone game on Monday created an unfair situation in the divisional round where one team would have a significant advantage in rest over their opponent.
Lo and behold, the focus on the bottom line ended up hindering a fair matchup in the NFC.
On Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys finished off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that ended at 11:26 p.m. EST. The win sets Dallas up to face off with the San Francisco 49ers, a renewal of a classic rivalry. The Niners made it to the divisional round by defeating the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday in a game that ended at 7:31 p.m. EST.
The simple math tells us that San Francisco has a whopping 52 hours more rest before this week’s matchup.
While not the fault of the NFL, the 49ers were also at home on Saturday while the Cowboys traveled to Tampa Bay for their matchup on Monday night.
Unfortunately, the solution for the NFL may not have been as profitable as seeing Tom Brady square off with “America’s Team” on Monday night. The marketing of that game was simple for the casual fan: “Will this be Tom Brady’s last game ever?” “Will the Cowboys be able to return to their former glory?” “Will Dak Prescott take the torch from Tom Brady?”
The result is the inequity we see for the divisional round.
It didn’t have to be this way. The NFL could have had all six games take place on Saturday or Sunday. If the money to have a standalone game on Monday was too great, the NFL could have scheduled the other two NFC games as Sunday games to minimize the difference for the winner of Sunday’s game.
Instead, the league made sure that there was something for everyone on Saturday and Sunday. One AFC and one NFC game on Saturday with two AFC and one NFC game on Sunday, alternated throughout the day of course.
A “schedule loss” is a rarely used phrase in the NFL but is commonplace in the NBA. When a team is coming off a long road trip or has a short turnaround from an away game, losing is expected for that team. It isn’t an excuse, it is an understanding that how the schedule played out set that team up, for that night, to have a tough time winning.
A schedule loss during the regular season of an 82-game season is rarely important and, often, balances out with most teams experiencing them at a similar clip. There is still fairness overall.
For Dallas (and their fans), fairness was nowhere in sight in the NFL’s planning. The team landed at home sometime on Tuesday and will fly out to the west coast for Sunday’s kickoff while their opponent was home Saturday night and will drive to the stadium for Sunday’s game.
It would be frustrating if that happened for a regular-season game. NFL schedule-makers have tried to avoid that as much as possible in the regular season lately. For the playoffs, money talked, which means Dallas has an uphill battle even before talking about the talent on the field.