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NFL delays flex call on Patriots-Broncos

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 6, 2011 08:13 PM

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Tebowmania, that increasingly frenzied phenomenon regarding polarizing, unorthodox, and usually victorious Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, has hit a new peak, with an assist from Tom Brady and the Patriots.

CBS and NBC, the two networks with the rights and intention to broadcast the much-anticipated December 18 matchup between the Broncos and the Patriots, spent Tuesday engaged in a tug-of-war over which will ultimately show the game.

Despite a midnight deadline to determine whether it would be ‘‘flexed’’ from a 4:15 p.m start on CBS’s Sunday schedule to NBC’s prime-time ‘‘Sunday Night Football’’ time slot, the matter was not settled.

The NFL announced at approximately 8:30 p.m. that it will determine Wednesday morning which network will carry the game.

NBC wants to utilize its contractual right with the NFL to move the game to its ‘‘Sunday Night Football’’ broadcast, replacing the previously scheduled matchup between the 9-3 Ravens and 5-7 Chargers.

Such a late-season maneuver is not out of the ordinary. The NFL utilizes flexible scheduling in Weeks 10-15 and 17 to ensure appealing prime-time matchups late in the season.

Losing compelling games can be a source of frustration to CBS, which has AFC broadcast rights, and Fox, which carried NFC games, but resistance is rare.

But this game is justifiably coveted. With the charismatic Tebow, who has led the Broncos to five straight victories, squaring off against Brady, the marquee player on a marquee franchise, the game is certain to be a ratings blockbuster for whichever network carries it.

It became increasingly evident Tuesday as the hours passed without an announcement that CBS was attempting to keep the game and a stalemate had occurred. Flex scheduling rules state that teams much be notified whether they will be moved into the Sunday night time slot no later than 12 days before the game, meaning midnight Tuesday was the deadline. Typically, the announcement comes the previous Monday.

Since flex scheduling was implemented in 2006, there are no other documented instances of a decision being held until a Wednesday.

The final decision on who gets the game will be made by the NFL, and it will be fascinating to learn which network it chooses. Conventional wisdom suggests the league would want Patriots-Broncos, a matchup that has been anticipated for weeks, in prime time, though the late-afternoon time slot on either CBS or Fox is usually its biggest ratings draw.

CBS and Fox can protect one game per week from being flexed under league rules, but the catch is that CBS protected Sunday’s Eagles-Jets matchup weeks ago, when that game had considerably more luster.

CBS, however, also could be excused for believing it is owed a break, having been flexed out of a Broncos/Tebow game just last Sunday. Then, the Patriots’ matchup with the winless Colts, originally scheduled for ‘‘Sunday Night Football,’’ was moved to an afternoon game on CBS. The Saints-Lions game, scheduled for 1 p.m. on Fox, was moved to NBC.

Because Fox had just two games to choose from in the early window, it was permitted by the league to take the Broncos-Vikings game from CBS.

Adding more intrigue to the situation was a report by the Denver Post Tuesday afternoon that Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was in New York for the NFL committee meetings, was making a case on CBS’s behalf and that the matter may have been resolved Monday had he not become involved.

The Kraft Group, of which he is the founder, chairman and CEO, is partnered with CBS in a restaurant venture at Patriot Place in Foxborough.

A source with the Patriots said Kraft, the chairman of the league’s broadcast committee, is sympathetic to both sides but may have some reservations about how a time change would affect the team’s travel plans back from Denver.

A spokesman for the Broncos said the team had no preference for when the game is played.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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