The NFL vs presidential debate debacle

It’s been a while since we last had the chance to do a Sunday afternoon post on the NFL, but sadly this one has nothing to do with kickoff time or predictions about the Jets. (We have a couple more weeks to wait for that.) Today we’re faced with the story of a collision between this fall’s NFL schedule and the highly anticipated debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With only three debates on tap, it’s been noted that two of them are up against NFL games on Sunday and Monday night. This outcome had Mr. Trump up in arms and tossing around accusations of election rigging by the Democrats, as well as claims that the NFL had “sent him a letter” complaining about it as well.

Some of those claims have turned out to be untrue (or questionable at a minimum) but there’s still some fire underneath all that smoke. (Yahoo News)

Both the NFL and the Commission on Presidential Debates are rejecting Republican Donald Trump’s assertions about the fall debates, which the billionaire businessman says have been rigged by his opponents to draw a smaller audience by scheduling two of them at the same time as a football game.

Trump began by making an accusation in a tweet posted Friday night: “As usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!”

Trump expanded his conspiracy theory when asked about the debates during an interview for Sunday’s “This Week” on ABC: “Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t like. It’s against two NFL games. I got a letter from the NFL saying, ‘This is ridiculous. Why are the debates against’ — ’cause the NFL doesn’t wanna go against the debates. ‘Cause the debates are gonna be pretty massive, from what I understand, OK?”

So in reverse order, the idea that the NFL sent Trump a letter complaining about the debate schedule will be pretty hard to prove unless he can produce such a document. Given that nobody in a position of authority at the league is backing up the claim, I have no idea why he would have said that, but it’s equally true that the NFL isn’t wild about the plan. As for the accusation that Hillary Clinton cooked up the scheme, that’s a bit of a stretch as well. The schedule was set months before the first votes were cast in the primary. I’ve no doubt that key players from both sides were trying to influence the decision, but there wasn’t enough information available at that point to really make such a call.

None of this, however, invalidates the core complaint coming from not only Trump, but many sports fans as well. Why would you put two of the three debates up against NFL games? They are consistently some of the highest rated programs on television and will only serve to draw large numbers of eyeballs away from what should be an exceptionally important, not to mention interesting series of debates which could definitely influence the outcome of the presidential race. On the opposite side of the coin, there are no doubt sports fans who will want to see those debates but will be put off their feed by the fact that they have to miss the game. Each team only gets sixteen regular season games per year. Unlike baseball, hockey or basketball, it’s not a matter of “just missing one” when there will be several more coming along shortly. Each one is critical in terms of building a record good enough to make it to the playoffs. Scheduling the debates on a Sunday or Monday night in the fall is just a bad idea.

Surely there is more than enough time to give this schedule a second look and move the debates to a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. (Yes, I know we have Thursday night NFL games now, but I personally don’t approve of them and if we have to miss a game I’d rather it be one of those.) The primary race debates were moved around and added at the drop of a hat without the world coming to an end. I seriously doubt that this schedule is so set in stone that we can’t do the same now.


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