NFL Pundits are becoming more confident that the owners and the players are working out their differences and heading towards an agreement. Ultimately the game has never been healthier, so it seems like both sides are motivated to keep the momentum going and potentially even make inroads with the NBA diehards who may be without a sport to follow this winter.
So if training camp is really going to be starting in less than a month it's a bit worrisome that HBO hasn't been able to finalize a deal with a team for a 2011 season of Hard Knocks. There hasn't even been any rumblings of late on that front which has me worried given my affinity for the show.
In previous years, HBO has made the announcement of which team they'll feature for the upcoming season anytime from March to late May. While it's not certain if and when training camp will begin, HBO has been pursuing a new featured team for months. Per various reports HBO has been turned down by the Broncos, Lions, and Bucs. Most of those reports came in that March-May time frame.
The Carolina Panthers were the last rumored team to be in play to appear on the show with Cam Newton taking a starring role. Those rumors were debunked shortly after and it's been eerily silent since.
PFT, SBJ, ESPN, or any other media outlets who have covered HBO's Hard Knocks in the past have been silent on the subject.
There are some reports from earlier in the year that the Cowboys and maybe even Jets would do it again and that the Seahawks and 49ers would be candidates, but most of those reports were flimsy at best and mostly conjecture.
Given there are a lot of contractual, logistical, and production issues in play in securing all access to training camp, I'd imagine we're fast approaching a deadline to get a deal done if the show is actually going to cover the beginning of training camp. If the NFL announces a deal in the next 10 days and HBO remains quiet on the future of Hard Knocks in the 72 hours after a new CBA is announced, I'd be very pessimistic of a new season airing.
So what's really going on behind the scenes? Given HBO seems to have some former teams interested, I'd imagine there are a handful of scenarios that are playing out...
- HBO has a verbal deal with a team pending a new CBA. That would explain why there hasn't been any rumors on this front for awhile and is plausible given you wouldn't want to tease fans of a team with this development only for their to not be football.
- HBO basically put the project and outreach on hold as the lockout persisted. Hard Knocks is a big investment for HBO and with no real certainty about having an actual training camp to cover, they opted to wait it out rather commit manpower to the project.
- NFL Films was asked to throttle down their involvement in the process as they are owned by the NFL. HBO produces the series with NFL Films and it's possible the NFL wanted to gain some type of leverage by not signaling to the NFLPA that they were confident that a CBA would get done, thus opening up the door for Hard Knocks as usual.
- Owners are not genuinely engaging with HBO as they don't want to send the wrong message that they're a) not thinking about the lockout b) signaling to players that they're confident a CBA will get done.
Nobody seems to know what's really going on behind the scenes and with all the attention on the lockout, people seem to have forgotten that one of the best sports programs on television may end up being one of the biggest casualties of the sustained lockout. For many including myself, Hard Knocks is like foreplay for the football season. August had some value with preseason football and fantasy football preparation but it's Hard Knocks that really gets me focused back on football.
In ten days or so we'll either be blogging about the lockout ending and tangents like Hard Knocks or on the flip side, items like college football games being moved to Sunday and how NBC, CBS, ESPN, and Fox will fill the air time. Mad Men has already been taken from my Sundays in 2011 due to a prolonged standoff and I'd hate to see the NFL and Hard Knocks go the same route. God only knows how many more kids Cromartie can have if he's not playing football 6 months out of the year.