Universal Doubleheaders in the NFL: Let’s Do It

Once upon a time, this thing called the "blackout rule" prevailed in the NFL; that is, any game involving a team playing at home was "blacked out" — not shown in the home market — even if the game sold out. This caused the phenomenon known as the "Rabbit-Eared Rooster" — for example, fans from New York City getting into their cars, driving up to Albany or Binghamton, etc., and checking into motel rooms so they could watch Giants or Jets games, with similar doings in other markets.

But in 1973, Congress passed a law lifting the blackout, provided that the games sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff time — and if a game was within 5,000 seats of a sellout, the home team could, at their option, could charge the network covering the game a "fine" in exchange for earning the right to televise the game locally (in practice, not all home teams availed themselves of this opportunity).

In 2015, the owners lifted the blackout rule entirely.

That leaves one archaic "rule" of this sort to be swept into the gutter: The doubleheader rule.

In every week of the NFL season, except Week 17, only either Fox or CBS is allowed to cover two games — i.e., "doubleheader games" — in any market. In Week 17, both networks get to put on doubleheaders — just to make it "fair."

But why should there be any restrictions on covering four games in each market every week? What could possibly be wrong with giving fans fans more games to watch? And please, don't think for a minute that a diehard Eagles fan will stay at home, when the Eagles are playing at home, just because if he does, he could watch four games on Sunday afternoon — two on FOX and two on CBS. That's ridiculous.

Historically, the National Football League has adapted to changing circumstances better — indeed, one might claim, a lot better — than Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, or the National Hockey League have.

While it is true that, starting in 2011, the NFL initiated the practice of "network-switching"; that is, an AFC team playing on the road might have their game carried on FOX instead of CBS (the practice made its debut on December 4 of that year, when a Denver at Minnesota game was switched from CBS to FOX) — a practice that has now become a fairly regular feature of the schedule — it is no substitute for simply scrapping the "no-doubleheader rule" altogether.

The new realities, hammered home by the COVID-19 pandemic, clearly dictate that fans need to be able to get to watch more games — and getting rid of the doubleheader restrictions altogether will accomplish that goal.

No one knows when the pre-COVID "normal" will return. But this needs to be done — and needs to remain in force even when this pandemic is as distant a memory as the one in whose shadow the NFL was founded a century ago.

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