Do you ever wonder who’s in charge of putting together the NFL schedule every year? Well, you no longer have to wonder. His name is Mike North, and he’s the NFL Senior Director of Scheduling.
One of four people responsible for this annual duty, North and his cohorts must factor limitless variables and dissect through hundreds of millions of permutations to produce a schedule that works best for all parties involved.
“We lock ourselves in a room the day after the Super Bowl,” North said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Our boss, Howard Katz, runs the broadcasting department. We always say this process is part art and part science. He’s the artist. And then there’s three of us that work for Howard.”
Those three would be North, Jonathan Payne and Onnie Bose.
“The four of us lock ourselves in a room, and we start trying to cull through what amounts to hundreds and hundreds of millions – trillions, maybe – possible NFL schedules each year,” North said. “We’re looking for that balance, that one schedule that takes care of all of our television partners, takes care of all of our teams, avoids stadiums blocks, limits travel, takes care of our London initiative, our holiday games – all of the things that go into the schedule.
“Most of the schedule, obviously, you’re talking about stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach,” North continued. “We look through hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them. All but one of them ends up in the garbage. There’s flaws to every schedule. The one we put out last night is hopefully the one with the fewest flaws.”
Thus, creating a schedule is part art, part science and part guesswork – and not necessarily in that order.
“It’s a combination of efforts between those of us in this room (and) certainly senior management here,” North said. “If Howard’s the artist and we’re the scientists, Roger (Goodell) is the final authority. The commissioner sees the final schedule, and his stamp of approval is required before the thing gets released. So somewhere between the commissioner, the four of us and our network television partners, we’re all trying to divine who is the hot team that’s going to come out of nowhere? Who is that team that maybe played well in the second half of last season and is worth a little extra exposure moving into this season? Is it the teams that have been a perennial playoff contender but maybe is still unknown to a lot of our fan base, at least nationally? Is it the team that’s been hovering right around .500, but maybe this is the year that they break through?”
Once everyone deliberates on that, it gets even harder.
“Not only are we trying to project NFL success; we’re also trying to a somewhat lesser extent project Major League Baseball success,” North said. “We’ve got a handful of teams that share stadiums or parking lots or municipal services or downtown geography with baseball teams. And so we’re trying to guess which of those baseball teams might be playing playoff games in October while also trying to figure out which of the NFL teams are going to be making playoff pushes in November and December. So yeah, a lot of projection and a lot of hope.”