Sports requires all the right moves

The ball teetered on the lip of the 16th hole at Augusta National Golf Club.

It was 2005, and after Tiger Woods’ now-famous chip shot fell in for a birdie and Woods went on to win the Masters for the fourth time, Jim Michaelian made a decision.

With Woods’ popularity and Tiger-driven television ratings soaring, Michaelian was convinced that the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach should not be run on the same day that the winner of a golf major was being fitted for a green jacket.

“That was sort of the capper,” said Michaelian, president and chief executive of the Grand Prix Assn. of Long Beach. “We said, ‘We’ve got to make sure we run on the third weekend of April and avoid it.'”

It was a good plan, but it wasn’t foolproof because of another scheduling maxim observed by auto racing promoters: Never run on Easter.

So after seven consecutive years of avoiding it, Sunday’s 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will be run on the final day of the Masters.

Woods is sidelined, recovering from back surgery, but the situation highlights the challenges faced by professional sports leagues, event organizers and promoters as they navigate through a calendar full of potential scheduling conflicts.

“It’s like a giant Rubik’s Cube,” one official said.

Professional sports leagues annually survey their teams for input on dates they would like to play or avoid.

NFL teams play only 16 regular-season games, but the league’s popularity makes it a behemoth for other entities attempting to schedule around it, Super Bowl Sunday especially.

The NFL plays the majority of its games on Sundays, but also at least one on Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights. Under the terms of the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act, the league does not schedule games on Fridays or Saturdays from early September through early December, protecting high school and college football, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The NFL plays three games on Thanksgiving Day. In 2011, Christmas fell on a Sunday so the majority of games were played on Saturday afternoon with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers kicking off late Christmas night.

For all its scheduling weight, the NFL does not always prevail in conflicts.

In 2004, it began a tradition of having the defending Super Bowl champion host the first game of the season on a Thursday night. However, the 2012 champion Baltimore Ravens opened the season last September at Denver because the Baltimore Orioles, who play at nearby Camden Yards, were scheduled to play an evening baseball game at home.

The league also contends with potential conflicts during the Major League Baseball playoffs. The Oakland Raiders and Oakland Athletics are the only NFL and MLB teams that share a stadium. But several football and baseball teams play in stadiums that are close in proximity and share parking and stadium personnel.

Baseball plays essentially every day of the week, with Mondays and Thursdays generally traveling days that result in a reduced schedule.

Katy Feeney, MLB’s senior vice president for scheduling and club relations, said schedule makers attempt to make sure that in August and September at least two weekends are available for NFL games in cities where teams share a stadium or area.