NFL weighs audible on `MNF' schedule

Proposal would postpone decisions on Dec. matchups

January 22, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

In an effort to boost late-season television ratings, NFL officials are floating a proposal to wait until late in the season to decide the matchups for the final four "Monday Night Football" games of the season.

The league would like to avoid repeating the San Francisco-Atlanta matchup in the final "MNF" game of the season that was the second-lowest-rated game in the history of the series. When the game was scheduled, it was a playoff rematch, but both teams collapsed this season.

It also would give the league a chance to showcase surprise teams like St. Louis and Indianapolis, which didn't play on "MNF" this year.

But it's uncertain if the owners will approve.

Ravens owner Art Modell, who was instrumental in negotiating the first "MNF" package as the longtime chairman of the television committee, said yesterday he has doubts about the idea.

"I'm not crazy about it," he said. "It would be a tough one to put over. It's a very creative plan, but there are a lot more problems in it than people realize."

He added: "It's worthy of further study and examination, but at first blush, I don't think it'll work."

He said there are a lot of logistical problems, including making travel arrangements and hotel reservations late in the year.

Dennis Lewin, who formerly worked for ABC-TV, which televises the Monday night games and is now head of broadcasting for the NFL, said he unveiled the plan for the television committee last week and presented it the entire ownership at a meeting in New York on Tuesday.

But Lewin said he hasn't gotten much feedback from the owners, and he plans to talk to some of them at the Super Bowl.

Lewin also is interested in having Fox and CBS pick some doubleheader games late in the year, although the league already has a policy of switching some games from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on occasion. He said the Sunday night and Saturday games late in the year would continue to be scheduled ahead of time.

League officials would have to decide by February whether there is enough support to go ahead with the plan.

Although a vote wouldn't be needed to implement, the league would have to decide whether to change some resolutions.

For example, the league has a policy that no team can appear more than three times on Monday night. This could lead to a fourth appearance.

The ratings for "MNF" dropped about 1 percent this year, but since other prime-time network ratings dropped even more, the series was ranked third among all prime-time shows this year.

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