The NFL is indeed discussing the possibility of playing games on Saturdays in the event that college football doesn’t proceed with a season from September through December. As one source with direct knowledge of the discussions tells PFT, however, the league’s strong preference is for college football to happen, as scheduled.
No college football season or a delayed season (a February-May scenario has been mentioned) would dramatically complicate the NFL’s ability to scout players in advance of the 2021 draft.
“If there were to be no season, then we are going to have to scout off of either these guys’ freshman and sophomore tape only or freshman, sophomore, junior tape if they were going to be a rising senior,” Bills G.M. Brandon Beane recently said on the #PFTPM podcast.
If there’s no college season, some otherwise draft-eligible players may decide to stick around for 2021, assuming that they’d get an extra year of eligibility given that there was, you know, no season in 2020. Others, like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, would likely say “see ya” to Saturday football, even after spending only two seasons there. (On that point, it would be interesting to see whether the NFL and NFLPA agree to extend the artificial three-year barrier to entry into the draft, forcing players like Lawrence to wait another year — and in turn to help college football make up for the money it would have lost in 2020.)
If the college football season plays out from February to May, the NFL would have to delay the draft, which would in turn delay the availability of players to join the offseason program, and which also would dramatically restrict the pre-draft evaluation process. It also would raise a very real question as to whether players who finished a football season in May should be expected to start another one in September.
So the best-case scenario for the NFL entails college football games being played during college football season. But if that can’t happen, the NFL would indeed attempt to backfill Saturdays with games that otherwise would be played on Sundays.
As the source explained it, that most likely would entail making specific games available on Saturdays exclusively via Amazon Prime or ESPN+, with streaming platforms paying a premium for content that would entice zealous NFL fans to in turn pay the premium necessary to watch the games. Those games would be removed from the FOX and CBS Sunday inventory, with the networks receiving a rebate (which would come in handy this year, given reduced advertising revenue) and with the NFL expecting to make back that cash and more via the next wave of broadcast deals.
It’s also possible that the league would expand its in-house Game Pass feature to include live Saturday games, selling the content directly to consumers who would, given the absence of college football, quite possibly fork over the kind of collective cash that the traditional broadcast networks couldn’t or wouldn’t for Saturday games.
However it plays out, don’t expect to see Saturdays play out like Sundays, with free content on three-letter networks (except in the home markets of the teams who play on Saturdays). The broadcast networks simply won’t want to buy those extra games, because it will be virtually impossible to for the broadcast networks turn a profit in the current climate.
None of it matters unless and until it becomes clear that college football won’t happen. Given the factors that make the league confident that the NFL season will proceed as scheduled, it’s reasonable to think that college football would be able to happen, too. And that’s the strongly preferred outcome both for college football and for the NFL.