College football fans were gutted on Tuesday when it was announced that both the Big Ten and Pac-12 are cancelling their fall football seasons and are going to try to play them in the spring. So far, the other power conferences are planning to play in the fall. At the time of this publication only they are on record as backing out of this season due to Covid-19 concerns.
We are just about four weeks away from the NFL season’s scheduled beginning and there is a lot of speculation that the league could seek to capitalize on a television landscape that is suddenly going to be void of what would have undoubtedly been some great games in college football.
Again it is unknown what the status of the SEC, Big XII, and ACC will ultimately end up being, but the television holes left by the Big Ten and Pac-12 are substantive. The latter is typically known for it’s late-night Saturday festivities (the “Pac-12 After Dark” slot, so to speak), but the reality is that there is now potentially more room for football on television on Saturdays. It makes all the sense in the world for the NFL to potentially capitalize on that.
It makes total sense that the NFL would want to play on Saturdays
Consider that the NFL generally has three windows of television on a standard Sunday. There are the early games, the afternoon games, and then of course Sunday Night Football. Beyond these windows we also get games on Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football. That means Monday nights, Thursday nights, and all day Sunday are full of action.
Generally the league has steered away from action on Friday nights or Saturdays so as to allow high school football and the college game to flourish there. We have seen the NFL play on Saturdays later in the year when college football has completed their regular season, though. That’s how we know - beyond the obvious pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - that the league clearly values Saturdays.
We simply do not know how the NFL would handle a Saturday slate. It’s unlikely that they would completely replicate their Sunday schedule, but it certainly makes sense for them to consider some sort of Saturday Night Football product. We have seen them play in that window later in the season as mentioned and generally on both Wildcard and Divisional Weekends.
It goes without saying that the NFL loves the Cowboys, the world’s most valuable professional sports organization. There is a perception that the league loves having them in primetime windows for this reason, but there are a few layers to that onion.
Consider that all of the night slots where NFL games are played are going to do monster ratings anyway. Why is that? Obviously because people plan on watching TNF, SNF, and MNF generally, the teams involved play a slightly smaller factor because of the time slot. That’s why where the Cowboys truly bring value is on Sunday afternoons.
When the Cowboys play on Sunday afternoon (the 4 PM ET window) they are generally the highest-rated and most-viewed game by far. If they are on FOX they typically draw their number one crew in Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Erin Andrews, and if they are on CBS they almost always have Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, and Tracy Wolfson. They are the golden goose.
Here are some Dallas Cowboys games that would make sense to be played on a Saturday
If the NFL truly wanted to lay claim to Saturdays this fall they could so by putting their golden goose in the slot. Whenever the Cowboys play they are going to be watched, and if the league wants to prove that the window is one that they could use beyond this season (certainly an entirely different issue) then they would likely want to see the full strength of it.
In looking at the Cowboys schedule, there are some games that the league is simply not going to move. Nothing that is already currently devoted to a primetime spot will change, and the classic NFC matchups that are late-windows on Sunday are likely available. But there are options.
Here are three Cowboys games that could make sense for the league to put on Saturdays:
To be honest, the one that makes the absolute most sense to me is the Minnesota game. In case you were unaware, Thanksgiving takes place in Week 12 this year which means the Cowboys visit the Vikings on the Sunday before. We all know how much of a pain it is for teams to play on Thursday right after a Sunday contest, while one day wouldn’t completely soften that it would at least provide another 24 hours, perhaps the NFL will look at that on a more league-wide scale in trying to find some potential Saturday games. That’s one option.
Cleveland and Cincinnati are games that the Cowboys rarely get as they are teams from the other conference, but they are both against high-profile quarterbacks that both recently went number one overall after winning the Heisman Trophy: Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow.
The Browns and Bengals each do not get huge windows generally. What better way to shine some light on these young passers (potential future cornerstones of the league) than to have them in a slot all by themselves against America’s Team?
We are still at a point with college football where the NFL hasn’t announced anything. All of this is speculation, but with each day getting us closer to the regular season, it all bears watching.