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Ongoing NFL uncertainty keeps BCS calendar in flux

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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The longer it goes on, the more chaos and uncertainty the NFL labor imbroglio spins out into the world, beginning with its own schedule: Even if the impasse extends through the summer and into September, the league already has a plan to revive the season at a moment's notice.

And because that plan involves pushing regular season games into January if necessary — including games scheduled for ESPN's other gridiron ratings bonanza, Monday Night Football — the disarray extends to at least two BCS bowls, too, including the self-proclaimed Championship Game in New Orleans:

Due to the reigning uncertainty over the NFL's work stoppage, ESPN has yet to lock in dates for four of the five BCS games, including the BCS National Championship Game, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 9 but could be moved to Jan. 7 or 10. The Sugar (currently Jan. 2), Orange (Jan. 3) and Fiesta (Jan. 4) could all be moved back a day as well if the NFL winds up having to cancel early-season games and reschedule them later.

"There are two dates in flux, Jan. 2 and 9," said Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior VP of college programming. "If there's a pushback of the [NFL] regular season, it could put Monday Night Football games on those nights where, under a normal schedule, we wouldn't have games on that night -- which is why the bowls were scheduled there."
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BCS commissioners discussed the conundrum here Wednesday during their annual administrative meetings. While officials accounted for the possible conflict when they originally signed their current deal with ESPN back in 2008, this week's NFL court developments have only caused more uncertainty.

If you're feeling lucky about your team's chances, just go ahead and book those hotel rooms in the French Quarter for January, uh, x — sometime in the first week or two of January, anyway. You'll hit it.

For the moment, according to BCS executive director Bill Hancock, the Sugar Bowl and Championship Game are still scheduled for primetime on the first Mondays of the new year, Jan. 2 and Jan. 9.{YSP:MORE} If a delayed NFL schedule forced a conflict on those dates with Monday Night Football, though, don't think for a second that ESPN would consider pitting two of its biggest audiences of the year against one another in the same coveted time slot. More likely, the Sugar Bowl would concede to the MNF juggernaut and agree to move to Tuesday, Jan. 3, bumping the Orange and Fiesta bowls to Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 in the process. (Yes, we are still assuming there's going to be a Fiesta Bowl.)

Following suit, the BCS title game could be bound for Jan. 10, though an open Saturday on Jan. 7 is also in play. "[As of] today, we're playing on the 2nd and 9th," Hancock said. "We're looking at ways to be flexible if the NFL situation changes. We're staying where we are for now."

One game that isn't moving: The Rose Bowl, naturally. The Granddaddy is ensconced in the afternoon slot on Jan. 2, immediately following the usual round of New Year's Day games — the Outback, Capital One, Gator and Ticket City bowls — that morning. That tradition (or what's left of it) isn't going to change. But you still might want to start bracing yourself for the moment when the picture cuts from the grandeur of sunset in Pasadena to these guys arguing whether or not Pittsburgh should rest Ben Roethlisberger against the 49ers.

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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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