NFL lofts scheduling bomb

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At an annual owners meeting Monday in Orlando, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he wants TV networks to give the league flexibility to move some marquee games from Sunday to Monday night the last four weeks of the season.

The idea: Identify key matchups as the season unfolds, then make sure ABC's Monday Night Football
prime time slot has some of those matchups. ABC would obviously welcome the move; Fox and CBS need convincing.

Although the league was suggesting to some network types that the commissioner was being taken out of context, he was quoted in an Associated Press story on the league's own Web site, NFL.com, saying: "We will ensure that there will be attractive games in all the time slots on Sunday and on Monday nights. I think we can make it a win-win situation. We could make sure that CBS and Fox both have strong programming late in the season."

Both Fox and CBS would certainly like to see some cash on the table in exchange for giving away desirable games, but they are said to differ about other inducements. Fox would like some in-game enhancements, like the old AFLAC trivia quiz, that they feel add value. Such enhancements are not part of the current contract. CBS is said to regard them as just more clutter.

CBS Sports President Sean McManus said of the proposal: "Our position remains that if, and only if, there is a flexible schedule proposal that is good for CBS, we would support it. Otherwise, the process now in place works perfectly well for CBS."

Lou D'Ermilio, SVP, media relations, Fox Sports, said, "We'll listen to what the NFL has to say, but any change in the scheduling process would have to be agreed upon by all parties."

Sources say CBS has been talking with the league for six months about the move. Fox is said to have had no substantive talks about the issue, although one source said a meeting was planned for this week.

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