2023 NFL schedule reveals how Pac-12 football can be smarter on media rights

No, you can’t play Pac-12 football on Sundays. You just can’t go up against The Shield and get reasonable television ratings. We get it. It makes sense. It’s entirely understandable to think this way.

Yet, the Pac-12 is not in a position where it can simply play games in the time slots everyone is accustomed to, and simply stand pat. We know the Pac-12 has to create standalone games when no other college football games are going on. The Pac-12 has to differentiate its product from other conferences, in order to showcase its teams but also to offer prospective broadcasters a more exclusive and visible product. The Pac-12 won’t get top dollar, but it can certainly get more dollars with standalone programming.

Going up against the NFL might seem foolish, but let’s modify that conversation: The Pac-12 shouldn’t go up against the NFL all the time. It can and should, however, pick its spots and be selective. Let’s examine how that can happen, based on the 2023 NFL schedule, which was released on Thursday:


Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders is interviewed by ESPN broadcaster Quint Kessenich during the first half of a spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The concept is simple enough: After the NFL schedule is released, the Pac-12 would allow ESPN to flex four or five Pac-12 games from Saturday to Sunday. The flex-game concept would try to look at the weeks on the NFL schedule when the afternoon games are not especially compelling. ESPN would air a game at 5:30 Eastern, roughly one hour after the NFL late games begin at 4:25. Maybe the start time could be moved up to 5 p.m. if the late-window games begin at 4:05 instead of 4:25.

Let’s look at some of the 2023 NFL schedule weeks which would be tailor-made for a Pac-12 Sunday flex game:


Sep 25, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The afternoon (late) games on Sept. 24 are not very attractive: Carolina at Seattle, Chicago at Kansas City, Dallas at Arizona. All three could be blowouts. That’s the perfect weekend in which to flex a Pac-12 game. It might be the closest, most interesting game on the board.

How about Deion Sanders and Colorado at Oregon on Sunday, Sept. 24? This is what flex scheduling would look like.


Jan 9, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) runs the ball during overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, October 1, the late games are Raiders-Chargers, Patriots-Cowboys, and Cardinals-49ers. None of those three games are matchups between two good teams. No, the Patriots are not a good team. Raiders-Chargers might be close, but that’s not a high-end NFL game. Stick a Pac-12 game into the mix and there’s something more for football fans to enjoy.


Jan 1, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay talks with officials to request a replay in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The late games on this NFL Sunday: Cardinals-Rams, Patriots-Raiders, and Eagles-Jets. It is true that Eagles-Jets, with Aaron Rodgers, becomes a bigger deal, but the Jets aren’t yet an established top-tier team the same way the Buffalo Bills or Cincinnati Bengals are. If there’s only one really interesting game, and that game doesn’t have clear Super Bowl contenders on both sides, that provides an opportunity for a Pac-12 football game to grab a considerable amount of attention. When you also realize that Eagles-Jets is two Northeast media markets, Pac-12 fans and fans in other regions of the country would welcome a college football game. No one cares about Cardinals-Rams, and only New Englanders really care about Pats-Raiders.


Jan 1, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, right, talks with general manager John Schneider during a fourth quarter timeout against the New York Jets at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The late games on Oct. 22: Cardinals-Seahawks, Steelers-Rams, Packers-Broncos, and Chargers-Chiefs.

The one really good game here is Chargers-Chiefs, but it’s the only really good game. Cards-Seahawks is a snoozefest in which Seattle should dominate. Steelers-Rams is a battle of two mediocre-at-best teams. Packers-Broncos really takes a hit with Aaron Rodgers no longer in Green Bay and Russell Wilson struggling. Three mediocre games with one good game creates another situation in which a Pac-12 game can be the alternative for anyone who doesn’t care for Chargers-Chiefs.


Los Angeles Rams safety Taylor Rapp (24) works to bring down Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (11) on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, during a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The late games on Nov. 5: Colts-Panthers, Giants-Raiders, and Cowboys-Eagles. Only one of those games is particularly interesting, and that’s an NFC East game people in the Western United States won’t move heaven and earth to watch. One theme to reiterate here is that in a lot of NFL late-game windows, there’s only one game with considerable national appeal. It’s not as though there are multiple games audiences will be riveted to.

The other extra point to make here is that if the one good matchup turns into a blowout, a Pac-12 football game instantly becomes more watchable. Moreover, the Pac-12 game is starting an hour or so after the big NFL late game, so when that NFL late game ends, the Pac-12 has a game which will continue for another hour before NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

There is value to be had by flexing a few games each NFL season into a Sunday time slot in the area of 5 to 5:30 Eastern time.

The Pac-12 needs to think about this when hammering out a media rights package.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire