Stadium contract limits prime-time games

The NFL schedule is expected to be released this week and the Vikings aren't likely to have any Thursday or Monday night games at TCF Bank Stadium. The stadium contract isn't conducive to that.

The NFL schedule is expected to be announced this week and it will be interesting to see how Season One of the two-year deal at TCF Bank Stadium is going to play itself out.

The NFL has been no stranger to dealing with the headaches that Minnesota has given the league in making up the schedule. As one of the few remaining stadiums that shared a facility with a baseball team, the NFL always had to work out the Vikings Metrodome availability with the Twins. Not only couldn't they share home dates during the preseason and the first month of the season when the Twins were playing September baseball, prior to the Twins leaving for Target Field in 2010, they were playoff contenders on a pretty regular basis and the NFL had to take October baseball into account as well. Even if the Twins weren't contenders, the NFL couldn't assume that when it released its schedule in April.

It would appear the conflicts between the multiple tenants of TCF Bank Stadium may be even worse.

We've already seen the first impact of the agreement reached by the Vikings and University of Minnesota officials. Part of the agreement said that the Vikings wouldn't have a home game during the Minnesota State Fair, which runs for a little less than two weeks and ends on Labor Day. For that reason, the Vikings will have their first two preseason games at home and their last two preseason games on the road.

But it doesn't stop there.

The schedule can't include home games on Sundays when the Gophers have home games of their own. The Gophers will be at home Sept. 6 and 20, Oct. 11 and 18 and Nov. 8 and 15. As a result, without the schedule even being released, we know that the Vikings will be on the road Weeks 1 and 3, which means that they almost surely will get their bye week in November since the Gophers close out their homes schedule in consecutive weeks.

It doesn't stop there.

Another caveat in the agreement is that the Vikings can't have a home game on a weeknight while school is in session. The fall semester at the University of Minnesota runs from September to mid-December – the vast majority of the season. Given their 2013 season, the NFL isn't going to schedule the Vikings for a home game in the final three weeks of the season. That will be reserved for teams like Denver, Seattle, New England, San Francisco or Green Bay. Not only is Monday night out, but the NFL doesn't schedule Thursday games the final two weeks of the season so, for the most part, any home Thursday game is off the table.

Seeing as Monday is a school day, it's unclear if Sunday night would be viewed as a school night, but that could potentially take that out of play as well.

The result? If the Vikings get more than the one prime-time game every team is guaranteed under the current television contract, you can almost rest assured that, barring a Thanksgiving night game, the Vikings likely will have most or all of their home games at noon local time on Sunday.

The Vikings may find themselves in a couple of prime-time games when the schedule is released, but the window for them to have one (if any) of them at home is looking pretty unlikely.

The logistics of filling out a schedule for 32 teams is cumbersome as it attempts not to give one team a competitive advantage over another – you don't see Miami getting three outdoor division road games in a row in December. It just doesn't happen because it wouldn't be fair. As difficult as that process is, the Vikings have a series of scheduling demands put forth from their stadium agreement while the new facility is being built that throws yet another wrench into the system.

There's no saying that the NFL is going to "stick it" to the Vikings, but, if they were going to stick it to anyone with an unfavorable schedule, human nature would say it's the one that is the biggest pain to the schedule-making wizards.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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