The NFL said Tuesday that it is investigating allegations that coaches during Monday Night Football were asked to call timeouts so that ESPN could squeeze in some TV commercials.
The situation had NFL purists and fantasy football players outraged that the outcome of a game could be influenced by concerns related to TV broadcasting.
In the situation Monday, the Jacksonville Jaguars were losing 23-3, and the Tennessee Titans had the ball with less than two minutes left. Quarterback Kerry Collins handed the ball to Chris Johnson, who scampered 35 yards for a touchdown that the Titans clearly did not need to win.
Here’s video of the Chris Johnson touchdown run.
During a postgame news conference, Titans coach Jeff Fisher was asked why he would risk injury to his star running back instead of having his quarterback simply kneel and chew up time on the clock. Fisher insinuated that it was ESPN’s fault.
Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio called some timeouts for the benefit of the TV broadcast, so Fisher made decisions he might otherwise not have made, he said.
“Jack used his timeouts, so it does me no good [to take a knee],” Fisher said.
“Plus, you know, my understanding was that we needed some network timeouts, so I think that’s why Jack used his timeouts … because they came over and asked me to do it, and I said, ‘Well, I was hoping to get a first down and kneel on it. ‘ “
Fisher also said “it’s the first time” he has heard of coaches being asked to call timeouts for broadcast considerations, but that comment was not part of the video highlights of the news conference that the NFL made available Tuesday.
[Click here for video of the press conference.]
“ESPN did not directly or indirectly ask the coaches to take a timeout during the game,” the Disney-owned sports network said.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league and all of its broadcast partners leave it up to coaches to determine when to use their timeouts.
Del Rio has not commented on why he called the late timeouts.
There are supposed to be 20 commercial breaks during a football telecast, and if ESPN sold commercials that did not air, refunds could be owed to the advertisers. Neither ESPN nor the NFL would say Tuesday who might be responsible for paying such refunds, nor did they say whether all of the ads planned for Monday’s game aired.
“We’re looking into it,” McCarthy said.
Meanwhile, Fisher was busy Tuesday attempting to clarify his remarks and absolve ESPN.
“What happens at [the] two-minute warning, the NFL gives you the status of TV, and with commercials they said we’re two behind,” Fisher said during a radio interview. “ESPN never came to me and said to call a timeout.”
The blogosphere was abuzz with folks complaining or cheering the fact that Johnson’s run affected their fantasy game’s outcome, and others theorized that Fisher is using TV broadcast as a scapegoat because wanted to use Johnson one more time to give him a chance to beef up his stats.
Johnson’s last-minute run gave him his only touchdown of the game and put him past the key fantasy barometer of 100 yards rushing.