A scheduling controversy has erupted between Baltimore's two major sports teams.
The NFL is set to release its 2013-14 schedule, and it's been a custom for the last 10 years that the defending Super Bowl champions are awarded the season-opening game in front of their home crowd to celebrate the title with their fans. Thus, the NFL wants the champion Ravens to begin their season with a high-profile Thursday-night home game on national television Sept. 5.
The problem is that the Orioles are also scheduled to play in Baltimore that day, at 7:05 p.m. against the White Sox. The two teams can't play at the same time in the same city, but thus far, the Orioles and Ravens haven't been able to work out a compromise on how to resolve the scheduling conflict.
Now some fans are pointing fingers at the Orioles, criticizing the team for thus far refusing to reschedule its Sept. 5 game to make way for the Ravens. These critics argue that the Ravens, as Baltimore's current champions, should be given top priority for the Sept. 5 night game on such a celebratory occasion. It wouldn't be unreasonable, they say, for the Orioles to simply reschedule their game for an earlier time that day or on a different day, perhaps as part of a doubleheader.
But are the Orioles really being unreasonable here? I don't see how. First of all, let's make it clear that the Orioles can't single-handedly change the game time without the approval of MLB and the MLB Players Association. The White Sox, too, would need to give their OK. So it's not entirely the Orioles' decision to make. And even if it were, they're well within their rights to be hesitant.
Certainly I understand that the season-opening Thursday-night home game is a big deal for the Ravens, but the fact remains that the Orioles' schedule has already been locked in place for months. It's not quite fair for the Ravens (or more accurately, the NFL) to swoop in months later and say: "Hey, actually, we want that spot that was reserved for you. Get out of the way, please." The Orioles shouldn't be muscled out of a scheduled game that belonged to them, at least not without both sides giving serious consideration to the possible consequences.
And the Orioles do face potentially negative effects if they reschedule the game. In September, the Orioles -- if this season plays out as fans hope it will -- could be in the pivotal month of a pennant race, with every game holding importance in the standings. Try telling manager Buck Showalter or general manager Dan Duquette that the Orioles should interrupt their schedule in the middle of a postseason chase to give the NFL its way.
None of the options is appealing to the Orioles. Playing a doubleheader is probably the least attractive choice. Despite what Ernie "Let's Play Two" Banks used to say, players generally don't enjoy playing doubleheaders. That's a grueling 18 innings of baseball in about an eight-hour span. Showalter would be faced with the choice of using his regular starters during both games and risk tiring them out, or play one game with mostly backups and hurt his chances of winning.
Moving the Orioles' Sept. 5 game from the evening to the afternoon -- say, 1 p.m. -- presents similar challenges. The Orioles play a game starting at 7:05 p.m. in Cleveland the previous night, so they'd be facing a quick turnaround time in flying to Baltimore and getting back on the field. Besides, even if the Orioles played in the afternoon and the Ravens at night, there would undoubtedly be some complications with traffic and parking for overlapping fans of the two games. Many early-arriving Ravens fans will be trying to park and tailgate before the Orioles game ends. And don't overlook the possibility that the O's will play a lengthy or extra-inning game that further complicates the timing.
There has to be a solution here that allows the Orioles to preserve their 7:05 p.m. home game Sept. 5 and the Ravens to still get a season-opening night game at home. To me, the simple fix is to move the Ravens' game to a different night. The NFL doesn't want to move the game to the previous night (Wednesday, Sept. 4) because of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. But the NFL had a full schedule of games on Rosh Hashanah just last year, and it hasn't been afraid to schedule games on holidays before, including Christmas. It seems like a half-hearted excuse that contradicts the NFL's recent history.
But if the NFL is insistent on not playing on Sept. 4, how about the night before -- Tuesday, Sept. 3? That avoids any conflict with the Orioles (who will be on the road) and Rosh Hashanah. The NFL doesn't typically schedule games on Tuesdays, but this would be a one-time-only, special-circumstance game. It's the first game of the NFL season, so playing on Tuesday is not going to throw off any team's schedule. No matter what night the game is on, national TV viewers are going to tune in by the truckload, and Ravens fans will pack the stadium in droves. The Ravens' season-opening Super Bowl celebration won't be any less special if it takes place on a Tuesday or a Wednesday instead of a Thursday.
Time will tell how this scheduling situation will play out. But in my view, the responsibility lies with the NFL -- not the Orioles or MLB -- to find a workable solution for all parties.
Posted March 19, 2013, by Paul Folkemer