This past Monday, I posted an item on ESPN not being necessarily happy with the selection of the 49ers-Cardinals game for Week Ten, and added that I didn't even know why they would pick such a game. A few people wrote in and asked me exactly how the games were selected, and I replied with a wishy washy answer about how teams put in requests and the NFL decided who to put where. While true, I didn't ultimately know the full process and where the ultimate power lied. I went delving for the answer and this is what I found.
Before we start with that though, I'd like to try and explain the rules as best I can. First, each primetime entity (ESPN, NBC, NFL-N) picks the games they would like each week before the season. From there the NFL slots those games in and then fills in the CBS and FOX schedules accordingly. Each team is only allowed, at the most, six primetime games which adds even more caveats to the selections. It can't be an easy process and when you throw in NBC's flex option it gets even more convoluted.
NBC's flexing of games seems just about the most unfair process this side of the BCS. Sure most of the times they don't decide to use it, and a lot of times it hasn't worked out for them, but this year could be different. Both CBS and FOX get to protect a game each week during weeks twelve through seventeen. Seems fair right? Well that's until you find out that those selections have to be made in October!
So if you're CBS and FOX back in October, who are you protecting most weeks? It has to be some combination of the Jets, Colts and Steelers for CBS and the Cowboys and Giants for FOX. Well that's all fine and dandy, but what happens if the Cowboys and Colts lost their next two games? You'll be stuck with two teams almost completely out of the Playoffs the rest of the way. NBC will be left to pick whichever Playoff race game from the NFC, as well as any game from the possibly undefeated Titans.
This brings us back to our original question and that's, "why the hell would ESPN pick the 9ers-Cards for their week ten Monday Night Football game?" The answer is of course that they didn't. The NFL did. I know that the network probably selected it as one of their options for that week, but with all of the complicated rules in place, they were basically forced to go with that one. In the end though, it doesn't really matter how dreadful it looked on paper, because it turned out to be one of the highest rated MNF games of the year with a 8.9 cable rating (8.683,000 HHs and 11,870,000 viewers, 4th highest-rated MNF of the season).
In the end, competitive Football will always win the ratings game, something which NBC should be able to achieve if they decide to flex any games the rest of the way.