Whether or not the NFL has a 2011 season remains to be seen, as the players and owners continue to work towards a compromise after a lockout began on March 12.
But as that labor situation lingers on, the NFL released its 2011 schedule Tuesday night; and since it came hours after the NHL and NBC announced their new mega television pact, the serious debate can begin over the 2012 Winter Classic's location and participants.
As much as every NHL team wants to host or at least be involved in a Winter Classic, it's like what Kevin Allen of USA Today wrote earlier this year: Playing on Jan. 1 should be for an exclusive club, especially with NBC having a say in who's involved. Figure on the typical NBC Sunday "Game of the Week" rotation of the teams until others show they have the resume to make themselves a national draw in the ratings.
While the Minnesota Wild versus the Dallas Stars might bring out some nostalgia among diehard puckheads, NBC wouldn't go near that for risk of low ratings.
So with the new NFL schedule released, who's out and who's potentially in for the next Winter Classic?
We know that the NHL needs at least seven days to prepare the venue and build the rink. That immediately knocks out places such as the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and Wysh's dream, Lambeau Field in Wisconsin, as those venues are hosting NFL games on Jan. 1.
Yankee Stadium, once again, is out because it will be in Year 2 of its four-year agreement to host the Pinstripe Bowl. You would think when New York hosts a Winter Classic either Yankee Stadium or potentially New Meadowlands would be the venue. CitiField in Queens doesn't have the marketability of a Yankee Stadium or the 80,000-plus seating capacity.
That leaves venues like "The Big House" and Spartan Stadium in Michigan, Beaver Stadium at Penn State and Soldier Field in Chicago among the favorites for the 2012 Winter Classic in our eyes. The college regular season ends in late-November, giving the NHL adequate time to prepare the stadium and get the rink set up, and the Chicago Bears play in Minnesota on Jan. 1, leaving the possibility of the Blackhawks being involved in another outdoor game.
And if there is no NFL season, thus no "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, could that mean another prime time Winter Classic? Otherwise, the game would more than likely move to Monday, Jan. 2 so as to not go up against the slate of NFL games. Are you ready for some "Monday Night Hockey"?
While there may not even be football in 2011, that decision would need to be made by the NFL and its players union by the time the NHL releases its 2011-12 schedule in late-June. If the 2011 NFL season is still up in the air at that point, the NHL can't bank on whether or not a possible venue would be available.