Orioles aren't at fault for scheduling conflict with Ravens

Ravens and NFL have put Orioles in a tough spot in handling Sept. 5 dilemma

In the greater context of world affairs, the scheduling problem that has put the Ravens and Orioles at odds this week doesn't really amount to a whole lot, but the public relations dust-up over what normally would be a non-descript Thursday night in early September reveals quite a bit about both of Baltimore's big-time professional sports franchises and the leagues they represent.

The Ravens, still riding their Super Bowl high, quite understandably were looking forward to the opportunity to host the 2013 NFL season opener at M&T Bank Stadium on the Thursday night before the first Sunday of the regular season. It is an honor bestowed on the reigning NFL champion, but — in this case — that date (Sept. 5) at Camden Yards is not readily available because the Orioles already are scheduled to play the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards that night.

So, the Ravens and the NFL recently went public with the suggestion that it would be great fun if the Orioles moved their game into the afternoon and the fans of Baltimore could enjoy a unique "sports festival" that included games involving both teams on the same day.

Sounds pretty cool, until you look at the actual economics and logistics, not to mention the impact that moving up a late-season game between two potential playoff teams might have on the outcome of two American League division races.

The Orioles and White Sox are both scheduled to play night games in other cities on Sept. 4, so it would create a competitive hardship for both clubs to play an afternoon game during a long span of consecutive game dates. The midweek day game would also impact the broadcast revenues for both franchises and likely take a big bite out of the projected Orioles attendance for that date.

Conversations continued late Tuesday between the Orioles and Ravens and sources have confirmed that the Ravens have offered to try and compensate the Orioles for the inconvenience, but that possibility may have been endangered by comments from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Ravens officials that seemed to be aimed at putting the O’s on the defensive, even though this scheduling snafu is not of their making.

If that was the intent, it was brilliantly cynical and manipulative, considering the Orioles are just bouncing back from 14 years worth of bad publicity and the Ravens are little more than six weeks removed from bringing the team's second Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore. The implication, at least, has been that the Orioles should do the right thing by allowing Baltimore fans to fully enjoy the fruits of the Ravens' surprising Super Bowl victory.

Even when Ravens coach John Harbaugh was explaining Tuesday how his team would prefer playing on the road on Sept. 5 to moving the home game back to Sunday, he began by delivering that same message.

"The biggest thing is our fans,'' Harbaugh said. "The team belongs to the fans, the team belongs to the community. You say whose team is this? It's the community's team. This is pro football, it's about the greater Raven nation so to speak. That's what it's all about. To have that home game after the Super Bowl has kind of become tradition. It's something that we would cherish. It would mean a lot to our fans."

That's certainly true, but if you step back and ponder what the Ravens and the NFL have been saying, it's pretty obvious that they're assuming that everybody who might attend the Orioles game that night would really rather be across the parking lot. It's a conceit the Ravens probably have earned along with that shiny trophy, but it isn't an attitude that sits well in the Warehouse.

Orioles officials won't come right out and say it, but they're pretty sure this isn't so much about the fans as it is about the branding of Thursday Night Football, because the NFL could do what it did last year to avoid a television conflict with the Democratic National Convention and move the game up a day or two.

The notion that the NFL doesn't want to play the game on Sept. 4 because it's the first day of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah is curious, because the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions opened their 2012 season on the first night of Rosh Hashanah and pro sports teams regularly play on many important religious holidays.

The Orioles may yet agree to some kind of accommodation, but they are under no obligation to do so when moving the game to the afternoon immediately after a travel night for both teams could have an effect — however subtle — on the ability to compete for a playoff berth.

If you doubt that, it might be instructive to ask Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome whether they would be willing to move a regular-season Sunday game up to Thursday if that were necessary to accommodate an Orioles home playoff game. That's an admittedly absurd scenario, but the point is that the Ravens would certainly act in their own competitive interests and they owe no less than that to their fans. The Orioles are charged with that same responsibility, even if a high percentage of Baltimore fans are invested in both teams.

The bottom line here is that this is not the Orioles' problem. It's an NFL scheduling problem that can be solved a number of ways. If the Orioles (along with the White Sox, MLB and the players union) eventually decide that they are willing to play an afternoon game, that would make Sept. 5 a pretty exciting day in the history of Baltimore sports, but the Orioles aren't responsible for this mess and they should not be criticized for acting in their own best interests.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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