Brooke PryorESPN staff writer4 minutes of reading
PHOENIX — NFL owners opted not to vote on a rule that would have allowed games to be moved to a Thursday night kickoff, but agreed Tuesday to modify the existing rule and allow teams to play a maximum of two short-week games.
That means some teams may play two Thursday night games, while others may have none. Thursday night games, such as the Thanksgiving game and next week’s Thursday night game, only count as one short game week, so some teams can play three Thursday games.
“We’re passionate about making sure we have exposure for all of our clubs,” said NFL executive vice president and chief media and commercial officer Brian Rollepp.
“We believe these national windows are for clubs that play well. We want to put the best teams in the best windows.”
While the proposal and subsequent changes, presented on the final day of the league’s annual meetings in Phoenix, won the support of a significant number of clubs, others met with timid reactions, and some vehemently opposed. New York Giants owner John Mara called the idea “abuse.”
Mara said owner support for the plan is close, and he’s worried a vote will come up again at the spring league meetings in May and pass. A flexible game will be announced 15 days before the scheduled Thursday kickoff.
“At some point, could we have some consideration for those who come to our games?” Mara said. “People plan to go to these games weeks and months in advance. And 15 days in advance, they’re like, ‘Sorry, guys, that game you planned to take your kids to at 1 o’clock on Sunday, is now Thursday night?’ What are we thinking about?”
Mara said he was frustrated that the idea was presented to owners without advance warning at league meetings this week.
“It should have been checked with the health and safety committee, it should have been checked with the competition committee and it wasn’t,” Mara said. “They tried to push it.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pushed back against Mara’s claim that the practice would “abuse” fans, saying the league was trying to balance the best interests of fans in stadiums with those watching on television from home.
“There’s nobody in our organization that doesn’t put our fans first,” Goodell said. “We’re all about giving our fans the best matchups. That’s always an area of focus in our schedule. Flex is an area of that. We do that very carefully and carefully. We look at all the ramifications of that before making a decision.”
Players also seemed to criticize the decision to increase the number of Thursday night games a team can play. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the league’s reigning MVP, He tweeted the message with a Facebook emoji.
When asked about Mahomes’ reaction, Goodell emphasized that the league does not prioritize a broadcast partner over the health and safety of players.
“I don’t think we’re putting Amazon (having the rights Thursday night) over the interest of the players,” Goodell said. “We’re looking at data related to injuries and impact on players. … I think we have very clear data that doesn’t show a high injury rate.”
“I hear directly from a lot of players. They have 10 days (off). So there are some benefits.”
Pittsburgh Steelers president and CEO Art Rooney II said he was in favor of two Thursday night games, but he also opposed the Thursday shift.
“I don’t support the flex section,” Rooney said. “If we’re smart about how we schedule teams … if they play two Thursday nights, for example, you can give them Thursdays, things like that, and a bye at the end or things like that. I think we can do it in a way that teams can live with that. It’s Thursday. The night provides more inventory for planning, so this can be a good thing.
“The biggest problem I’ve had with flex is that you only have 15 days’ notice. For me, Sunday through Thursday is too short a time for flex.”