Niners will have chance to win way back on TV

Once the darling of nationally-televised games, the 49ers have found themselves shunned by the prime-time spotlight games in recent seasons as the team sunk to the bottom of the NFL. The 49ers don't figure to be featured much on the national 2006 schedule, either, but here's a way the team could work its way onto that schedule by the end of the season.

This season, the NFL will implement for the first time in its history a prime-time "flexible scheduling" element on Sundays in Weeks 10-15 and in Week 17. Flexible scheduling will ensure quality matchups on Sunday night in those weeks and give surprise teams a chance to play their way onto primetime.

The 49ers hope to be one of those surprise teams after appearing in nationally-televised evening games just once last season – an ESPN Sunday night game Oct. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City. The 49ers have not appeared on Monday Night Football since 2003.

The 49ers had appeared on MNF at least once in every year from 1983-2003 except 2000. They appeared in at least two MNF games 17 seasons during that span. San Francisco's all-time record of 53-28 in prime-time games is among the NFL's best.

The 2006 NFL schedule will list start times for all Sunday games during the "flex" weeks as 1:00 PM ET, except for games played in the Mountain or Pacific Time zones, which will be listed at 4:05 PM ET or 4:15 PM ET.

The NBC Sunday night time slot for "flex" weeks will list teams as "TBD."

Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved. Flexible scheduling will not be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday or Monday nights.

Just as the six major college football conferences have done for many years, the NFL now will have additional flexibility to move the start times of games on Sundays, using a 12-day notice format.

For example, a game scheduled for Sunday, November 26 could move from a 1:00 PM ET kickoff to an 8:15 PM start, but the change would be made and announced no later than Tuesday, November 14.

The NFL has commonly moved games between 1:00 PM ET and 4:15 PM ET (eight times last season) on Sunday afternoons. The new practice allows the NFL to employ flexible scheduling to include one of its primetime package of games – on Sunday evenings.

Sunday afternoon games, as in the past, can still be moved between 1:00 and 4:05 or 4:15 PM ET. In Week 17, in order to ensure a Sunday night game with playoff implications, the decision to move the start time may be made on six days notice.

CBS and FOX will each be able to protect a total of five games in the seven weeks of flexible scheduling, but not more than one game in any week.

During the 2005 regular season, the NFL conducted a study with mock flexible scheduling. An eight-person task force consisting of team executives, one from each division, was consulted on a weekly basis. In addition, television network partners and the NFL's broadcasting department participated weekly in the process.

"NFL FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING 101"

--- Begins Sunday, November 12, 2006 (Week 10)

--- In effect Weeks 10-15 and Week 17.

--- Not in effect Week 16 due to holiday weekend

--- Only Sunday afternoon games in Weeks 10-15 and 17 are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.

--- The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 PM ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 PM ET.

--- No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.

--- The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce on 12 days notice the game being moved to 8:15 p.m. ET and may also announce games moving to 4:15 p.m. ET.

--- Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.

--- The NBC Sunday night time slot in "flex" weeks will list teams as "TBD."

--- Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.

--- NFL schedules all games.

--- CBS and FOX each get to protect a total of 5 games in the 7 weeks of flexible scheduling, but not more than one game in any week.

--- Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.

In other NFL news Wednesday:

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has appointed an eight-member committee to lead the search for a new commissioner, the league announced.

The eight members of the committee include Al Davis (Oakland Raiders), Lamar Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs), Woody Johnson (New York Jets), Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys), Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), Mike McCaskey (Chicago Bears), Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers) and Dan Rooney (Pittsburgh Steelers).

Richardson and Rooney will serve as co-chairs of the committee. Tagliabue announced on March 20 that he will retire by the end of July.


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