- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

If you're a local fan interested in the National Football League playoff picture and lacking access to a satellite dish, chances are you felt cheated out of the most critical games of the year on Sunday, both of which aired on Fox. The games you won't see on television schedules in the D.C. area featured the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. The amazing upstart Bears, who entered the game with a 9-2 record, squared off against the Packers, an 8-3 club with an offense spearheaded by two of the most exciting players in the game, quarterback Bret Favre and running back Ahman Green. Another key game televised in other parts of the country, but blacked out in the D.C. area, was the 49ers-Rams showdown, involving a pair of 9-2 teams with two of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Other games with 1 pm kickoffs which: 1) were broadcast by Fox; 2) had important playoff implications and 3) were not shown in the D.C. area included the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons-New Orleans Saints matchups.

For the great majority of Washington-area viewers, who are relegated to watching Sunday afternoon football on two stations, the Fox affiliate (WTTG-Channel 5) and the CBS affiliate (WUSA-Channel 9), only three games were available. The only game involving teams with winning records was the Jets-Steelers matchup. But in order to watch that game, viewers would have had to switch away from the Redskins.

So why couldn't local fans watch any of the 1 pm games broadcast on Fox? Because of an insidious concept known as the "doubleheader" rule. Boiled down, it says that no more than three NFL games can be televised by Fox and CBS on Sunday afternoons in a single market. Each network gets to broadcast at least one game each Sunday. On alternate weeks (generally speaking) either Fox or CBS gets a second game. Usually, it's one of the better ones. The problem this past Sunday was that it was CBS's turn to get the doubleheader, and they had more stinker games on the schedule. Fox was limited to just one game, the Redskins-Cardinals matchup, in our area. Make no mistake, the NFL and the networks were punishing Washington-area fans, telling them, in effect, that you have to choose between watching the local team and watching the best games of the day even if those games are broadcast at a different time than the Redskins.

It's time for NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the TV moguls to make serious changes in the doubleheader rule. Why not, for example, give the commissioner discretionary authority to use "common sense" to wave it in exceptional circumstances? And if Mr. Tagliabue and the network moguls don't want to exercise such common sense, fans can always exercise theirs by turning off the television.

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