Each September, the Pro Football Hall of Fame typically names around 95-125 modern-era players, who played at least part of their careers in the past 25 years and have been retired at least 5, as nominees for induction to the Hall of Fame. No more than five modern-era players are inducted each year, so the vast majority of players listed below won’t be inducted this year and most probably won’t be inducted at all. Still, it’s useful to have a baseline to look at them, show their relevant stats and honors, and argue over which players are worthy of induction.
For 16 years the Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch has been the most popular part of this blog, in various incarnations, by a significant margin, being most of the reason anyone pays attention to it at all and building a base of commenters with varying degrees of grasp on reality. This season, though, with the start of a new media contract, the extension of flexible scheduling to Monday and Thursday nights means the end of an era for the feature, no longer dedicated to figuring out what single game will be shown on Sunday night in a given week.
For all that my commenters appreciate my insight into flexible scheduling decisions, my record at predicting what the NFL will actually do has never been that great, certainly beyond the most obvious decisions. Part of this is because I’m often fumbling to grasp what the NFL is thinking, especially as they’ve increasingly clearly treated appeasing the Sunday afternoon packages as being of equal if not greater importance, and my philosophy in making picks has often not quite aligned with the league’s. But part of it is also that there have been more than a few times where the league has left me utterly dumbfounded, making decisions that remain inexplicable years later. As the Flex Schedule Watch enters a new era, here’s a look back at the most inexplicable flexing decisions the NFL has made over the 16-year history of this feature. These are based solely on the games the league went with for the Sunday night time slot, not any other flex scheduling decisions they may have made, though I may take a more critical eye at a decision if it left a marquee game in an afternoon time slot with limited distribution. Each week generally links to the first flex-schedule post I made after each decision where I react to each move I didn’t predict, with a link to the post with my final predictions, if different, in parenthesis.
(Technically flexible scheduling for Sunday Night Football has existed for 17 seasons, but a) this blog didn’t exist for most of 2006 and b) there actually were tentative games that first season, but they weren’t publicized. They were apparently reported at some point, but I’m not sure I’d have a quibble with any of the resulting flex decisions; the only real eyebrow-raising one for me is Week 14, more for Fox inexplicably protecting Giants-Panthers over Saints-Cowboys, and I’m only looking at the choices the league made with the options they had. The original tentative that week was Pats-Dolphins, 8-3 v. 5-6 when the decision had to be made, which isn’t great but normally wouldn’t be flex-out material, but I might still have predicted a flex with Saints-Cowboys available, especially considering what happened to the same Pats-Dolphins matchup a few years later.)
Yesterday we identified the schools that might form a super league and suggested that a 32-team league would strike the best balance between maximizing the value of the schools selected and ensuring a) that Clemson would be among the schools selected, minimizing the possibility that the best team in what’s left of FBS would be able to claim to be the “true” national champion and reducing the incentive for fans to simply declare FBS their college football competition of choice, and b) in turn, convincing Notre Dame that they need to surrender their independence and join the league to maintain their relevance, rather than lending their brand name and relevance to FBS. But there were some tight margins in selecting the last few teams, and we had to stretch a bit to pick Clemson and Notre Dame’s rival Stanford. So whoever’s forming this league could conceivably decide it’s worth it to expand it a bit and remove the stress over justifiably picking those teams, and once they start going down that path it won’t be long before they’ve reached the point of eliminating FBS as a threat to the league’s claim to be the undisputed top tier of college football entirely. It would effectively take less inspiration from the European super league and more from the Premier League, which was effectively a secession of the existing top flight of English football from the established Football League. What schools would that involve? I’m going to try to keep the analysis to a minimum for this post, but I’m not sure I succeeded.
Having laid out how I’m going to measure the value of schools when choosing them for a super league, it’s time to actually select the teams. I originally intended not to say a lot and just take the teams, and later on that’s what I’ll do, but I started out expounding at length about why certain teams were being selected or turning up on the list when they did, and ended up saying so much that I ended up breaking it into two parts. This part will cover what I imagine to be the smallest possible league, and we’ll look at larger league sizes tomorrow.
We’ll start with the eight schools most commonly cited as being among college football’s “blue bloods”, listed in order of their value after the academics step:
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
Earlier this past month, the Pac-12 effectively imploded as a result of its inability to secure a sufficiently attractive media rights deal in the aftermath of USC and UCLA’s departure to the Big Ten, with three schools departing to the Big 12 and two to the Big Ten in a single day. This does mitigate one of the problems with the USC and UCLA move by giving them West Coast partners to play and making them less isolated in that way, but it makes most of the others worse. There are still no schools in the Big Ten between Nebraska and Los Angeles, and we’re now looking at conferences 18, 20, or even more schools in size, with no real steps to make them feel like actual conferences and no real guarantee of a clear conference champion with every conference moving to go without divisions and simply send their top two teams to the conference championship game – only a scheduling and TV rights alliance promising the ability of teams to play the most valuable schools in the conference in football fairly regularly and to earn TV rights fees partly based off of the association with those schools. With an effectively national conference and no divisions, the Big Ten is making its Midwest and Eastern teams in non-revenue sports make the long trek west, or vice versa, all the more often, and to travel decent distances within the West.
It all had the effect of turning my thoughts back towards my wondering what might have been if college football’s biggest schools had decided to leave the auspices of the NCAA and formed a “super league” – whether a relatively modest secession of just the most valuable schools, or a full-fledged split of FBS itself taking most of the Power 5 with it as the Knight Commission proposed – and my desire to create a more robust means of determining what schools might join such a league than I engaged in at the start of the year. The dawning start of the college football season in earnest is as good a time as any to present my more rigorous findings. This post will document my attempt to find a formula to measure the viability of teams for a super league; the next post will attempt to actually identify the teams, and a future post may explore how this affects the conferences for the schools left behind and in other sports.
This month the Pro Football Hall of Fame began the process of naming its class of 2024. The Senior Committee, tasked with choosing players who last played over 25 years ago, and the Coach/Contributor Committee, tasked with choosing persons who made their mark on football in capacities other than as a player (with coaches required to be retired at least five years), each named lists of at least 25 semifinalists, and this Thursday they further narrowed the field to 12… semifinalists (more on that in a bit). Next month the Senior Committee will choose three finalists while the Coach/Contributor committee will name one, which will move directly to the final stage of consideration in January where the full selection committee will vote up-or-down to induct each candidate into the Hall of Fame. As such most of these candidates won’t be inducted this year and some may never be inducted at all, but we can still see who the Hall of Fame voters consider most worthy among the candidates in each category, who might be likely to be chosen by the committees in future years, and look at the relevant honors and argue over who should be inducted.
Between three primetime packages, a handful of Monday Night doubleheaders, international games, Saturday games, tripleheaders on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a game on Black Friday, by the time the season ends the NFL will have presented 74 games in standalone windows, over a quarter of all the games being played, before even getting into the games being shown in the featured late afternoon windows on CBS and Fox. Yet even with all of that, there are still some great games being left to languish in obscurity, buried in the early afternoon window or even the late singleheader window, where your ability to watch the game will be dependent on the luck of the draw. Here are the best games that aren’t currently scheduled for any primetime or other standalone window and aren’t slated to be a lead 4:25 ET game.
2023 marks the beginning of the NFL’s new TV contracts including substantial changes to how flex scheduling works, not all of the details of which are known: six-day Sunday night flexing in December, Monday night flexing, and potentially even Thursday night flexing. With that will likely come substantial changes to how the Flex Schedule Watch works, which I’ve only recently started seriously thinking about… partly spurred by learning of a possible change to how flex scheduling works that could make the former format almost entirely obsolete.
Congratulations to Darrelle Revis, Joe Thomas, DeMarcus Ware, Zach Thomas (finally!), Ronde Barber, Don Coryell, and the three senior candidates on their induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now it’s time to look at how this year’s selection process affects who the players most likely to get in next year are, and with the 2022 season fully at a close, what active and recently-retired players have most built their resumes for eventual induction into Canton.
Obviously the attention of the NFL world in the past two weeks has been focused on Damar Hamlin and the aftermath of his collapse in the first quarter of what was supposed to be a huge Monday night game between the Bills and Bengals. Thankfully his condition is not nearly as bad as was feared at the time, and less than a week after his collapse he was discharged from the hospital and returned to Buffalo with his release from a Buffalo hospital coming only nine days after the incident, and the NFL world seems to be moving on and returning to a semblance of normalcy, even if the NFL did end up imposing some odd contingencies to make up for the pivotal game that ended up being abandoned (though not nearly as odd as some of the proposals for delaying the playoffs that were floating around, including from me). Still, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m diminishing the Hamlin situation or anything. To be sure, certain forms of empathy don’t come as naturally to me as to most people, and I might sometimes come off as indifferent in my reaction to certain tragedies, but I think since writing that post I’ve come to a better understanding of why people react in the way that they do in those sorts of circumstances, maybe a better one than society itself has, and understand why those things have the import they do even if I don’t necessarily feel it myself.
Nonetheless, I also don’t feel that just because of the undeniably unfortunate situation the NFL world has gone through in the last week, that means the league should be off the hook for what they did in the 24 hours before Hamlin collapsed. Because as it turned out, the decision to flex Steelers-Ravens into the preceding Sunday night, which I called potentially the worst flex decision since 2015, was only a prelude to what, before the Sunday night game was even announced, would be the absolute worst flex decision of the entire flex scheduling era, and it’s not even close. Were it not for Hamlin’s collapse and the way the league dealt with it, the NFL’s boneheaded decisions about which games to move to Saturday could have had a material impact on what teams make the playoffs in both conferences (and the Sunday night pick could still have had that impact in the NFC), and it was entirely avoidable.