Bisciotti asks NFL for schedule switch

Down to play 3 of first 4 on road due to O's games, team seeks Monday date


April 02, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Although the final sale of the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti was overwhelmingly approved at the NFL owners meetings, how the league truly welcomes him will be determined in the coming weeks.

Bisciotti's first season as the Ravens' sole owner could begin with a challenge - playing three of their first four games on the road - unless the NFL honors his request for a prime-time home game.

Because of scheduling conflicts with the Orioles (they play day baseball games across the parking lot on Sept. 12 and Sept. 26 as well as Oct. 3), the Ravens have asked league officials about giving them a home game on Monday night in Week 4 (Oct. 4) to avoid such an arduous road stretch. The Ravens haven't played on Monday night since September 2002.

The NFL will announce its entire regular-season schedule later this month.

"They are very aware of it, and they said they would do everything they could to accommodate us," said Bisciotti, who spoke with commissioner Paul Tagliabue about this issue. "I think we're up for a Monday night game, so I don't think it's asking a ton of them, either. I'm encouraged, but you can't get too encouraged."

Bisciotti said the problem may grow even worse if the Orioles make the playoffs, which could force the Ravens to travel for four of the first five weeks.

In those instances, NFL spokesman Steve Alic said a potential conflict may be addressed by scheduling a first meeting against a divisional opponent, a game that could be "swapped" and played at either team's stadium if a potential conflict comes to fruition.

Another possibility to gain an additional home game in the first four weeks is a Sunday night game. But it's uncertain whether that could logistically be worked out.

The Ravens and Orioles have staged just one doubleheader in their six years of sharing the downtown sports complex. It occurred on Aug. 31, 2001, when the Ravens played a preseason game at noon and the Orioles played seven hours later.

Based on their history with the NFL schedule-makers, it would be understandable if the Ravens were pessimistic about the situation panning out favorably.

In their 2000 Super Bowl season, they played five of their first seven games on the road and didn't receive a bye week until December.

The next season, the Ravens were snubbed when they didn't open the season on Monday Night Football. In fact, they are the only defending Super Bowl champion since 1995 not to receive a season-opening Monday night game (the New England Patriots will begin on Thursday night this year).

The Ravens should be in line for multiple prime-time games considering they have eight returning Pro Bowl players and won the AFC North last year.

Still, coach Brian Billick understands from experience that there are no guarantees.

"It's kind of standard operating procedure for us anymore," Billick said of the questionable scheduling. "So, if it were anything but like that, I wouldn't know what to do. I've had one home opener [in 2001] since I've been here."

When asked about the conspiracy theories that the league is against the Ravens, Billick said, "I guess that's the way the computer works."

Last season, two teams - the Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars - had to start with three road games in the first four weeks. The Patriots went 2-2; the Jaguars went 0-4.

"My nonstop mantra for six years has been: Winning on the road in the NFL is the most difficult thing in all of professional sports," Billick said. "To start out with three out of four on the road would be quite a task."

At this week's owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., the approval of the sale to Bisciotti went smoothly except for one surprise dissenting vote.

When the Ravens were mistakenly asked to cast a vote on the sale, outgoing owner Art Modell jokingly blurted out, "No."

"He had one last laugh in there," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of public relations. Bisciotti officially takes over Thursday.

NOTE: Billick spoke last night at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

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