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The NFL’s new Thursday flex scheduling has one major loser: The fans

With Thursday Night Football eligible for flex scheduling, the NFL can seemingly do what it likes with moving games around.Jason Behnken/Associated Press

EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL sent a message to fans who want to attend a game in person this December: Buyer beware.

Among a series of moves approved by NFL owners on Monday was a proposal to introduce flex scheduling to Thursday Night Football this fall. The move comes in conjunction with the NFL also instituting flex scheduling for Monday Night Football for 2023.

The league is attempting to minimize the disruption by limiting the Thursday night flex window to Weeks 13-17, and adding several other restrictions. But the upshot of the new rule is that fans planning to see a game on Sunday in December could see the game moved to Thursday night, and vice versa.


The Patriots’ Thursday night game at Pittsburgh in Week 14 falls within that flex window.

The proposal, which was tabled from March’s owners meeting, passed by a 24-8 vote, per ESPN, with the Giants, Jets, Packers, Bears, Raiders, Lions, Bengals, and Steelers voting against it. Giants owner John Mara previously called Thursday flexing “abusive” to fans and Raiders owner Mark Davis told USA Today he would prefer the NFL “make the schedule and play it.”

“We’re incredibly judicious and incredibly sensitive to flexing a game and all of the dynamics that go into that,” said Hans Schroeder, executive vice president of NFL Media. “But we’re also trying to balance how we get the best games in the best [TV] windows for our fans.”

The initial proposal that was voted upon in March, which only garnered 22 affirmative votes, called for Thursday games to be flexed 15 days in advance. The concessions in the new proposal include:

⋅ At least 28 days notice will be required to flex Thursday games.

⋅ Flexing can only occur in Weeks 13-17.

⋅ No team will be required to switch from Sunday to Thursday more than once.


⋅ No team will be required to play more than two Thursday night games in a season.

⋅ The NFL can only flex two Thursday games per season.

⋅ Teams can still only have a maximum of seven standalone national TV games.

The NFL believes that increasing the required flex notice to at least 28 days will help minimize the schedule disruption. Schroeder also said that the NFL only averaged about 1.8 flex games per season since the concept was introduced in 2006 with Sunday Night Football, though it flexed four games last year.

The NFL will now have the ability to flex games for all of its national TV windows — Thursday nights on Amazon, Sunday nights on NBC, and Monday nights on ESPN. FOX and CBS will still get to protect one game per week, so the new rules are less about putting the best games in national TV windows and more about ensuring that bad games are removed from them.

“We’re going to have a high bar for [flexing on] Monday night, and an even higher bar for Thursday night for the type of game we think would merit real consideration for flex,” Schroeder said. “It’s going to have to be a situation where it’s really clear and really apparent that that game shouldn’t stay on a standalone basis on a Thursday night.”

But fans hoping to attend a game in Weeks 13-17 may find themselves having to change their plans at the last minute, or unable to attend the game, particularly if they plan to travel.


“If you have a Raiders-Chargers game in Las Vegas scheduled for a Thursday and all of the fans driving from Los Angeles — the Raiders fans and all three Chargers fans — buy their tickets and book their hotels, how in the hell do you schedule it and now say, ‘Sorry, it’s now on Sunday?’” Davis told USA Today. “How in the hell do you do that?”

Vegas bound: Davis confirmed to the Globe that Tom Brady’s offer to become a minority owner of the Raiders has been agreed to and is pending league approval. It is unclear how much of the team Brady is purchasing and what his role will be, but the deal is likely to be approved this summer after going through the NFL’s normal vetting process for ownership transactions.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said Brady, who retired “for good” in February, plans to be in Foxborough for the Patriots’ Week 1 opener against the Eagles. Brady would also likely be in attendance for the Week 6 Patriots-Raiders game in Las Vegas.

Brady is a step closer to being an owner.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Emergency QB: NFL owners also passed a rule establishing an emergency quarterback slot in response to the 49ers’ loss in January’s NFC Championship Game, in which they suffered multiple injuries at quarterback and had trouble finishing the game.

The rule leaves little wiggle room for coaches to exploit. A team may designate a player as the emergency quarterback, but with specific rules:


⋅ The emergency QB can only enter the game if the first two quarterbacks are hurt or otherwise cannot play.

⋅If either of the first two quarterbacks returns to the game, the emergency QB must be removed from the game and can’t play another position.

⋅The emergency QB must come from the 53-man roster and can’t be a call-up from the practice squad.

This and that: The NFL’s finance committee received an update on Josh Harris’s bid to buy the Commanders for $6.05 billion, but the large size of his investment group and questions about financing and debt will delay the approval of the sale, per Colts owner Jim Irsay, who is on the committee. “It’s a little more complex than a simpler deal,” Irsay said. “I think that would be great to have a new ownership group in there before the season opens. That would be a goal, it’s not an impossibility.” … The NFL awarded Super Bowl LX to the Bay Area and Levi’s Stadium, to be played in February 2026. The Bay Area last hosted Super Bowl 50 between the Broncos and Panthers. The NFL also awarded the 2025 NFL Draft to Green Bay, following next year’s draft in Detroit.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.