L.A. audience kept from another exciting finish

LOS ANGELES -- One of the biggest reasons NFL fans in Los Angeles have been content without a team since 1994 is television. Bring up the possibility of the San Diego Chargers moving to Los Angeles and many will shake their heads and say, “No, we get to watch the best games on TV every Sunday. Why would we want to be forced to watch the Chargers?”

Well, L.A. football fans can forget about that excuse. The NFL is going to force-feed you Chargers games whether you like or not.

On Sunday, KCBS in Los Angeles left the Dallas Cowboys-Cleveland Browns game with six seconds left in regulation to show three minutes’ worth of commercials and the introductions of the San Diego Chargers-Denver Broncos game.

At the time CBS abruptly cut away from the game, Tony Romo was leading Dallas to a game-tying field goal. Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey eventually hit a 32-yard field goal with two seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 20-20 and send it into overtime. Bailey would then hit a 38-yard field goal in overtime to give the Cowboys a 23-20 win.

When Bailey’s overtime field goal sailed through the uprights, KCBS was airing commercials during the first quarter of a still-scoreless game between the Chargers and Broncos.

The outrage over the sudden game change made CBS a trending topic on Twitter in Los Angeles for all the wrong reasons.

Last year, a similar situation occurred when KCBS cut away from the final 27 seconds of an exciting Oakland Raiders-Buffalo Bills game for the commercials and the opening of the Chargers-New England Patriots game.

It seemed like the NFL had changed its policy after that game last year. A league official told me at the time that moving forward, if the Los Angeles market was airing a close game with the outcome still in the balance there was a “very good chance” the local affiliate wouldn't leave the game until it was decided.

NFL spokesperson Dan Masonson confirmed the NFL’s tweaking of its television policies at the time by saying, “When situations like this arise in the future, we will take a look at them. We always review our policies and seek ways to improve them."

Until Sunday, the NFL and CBS had stayed true to their word. For example, they showed the ending of the Raiders-Houston Texans game last season and joined the Chargers-Broncos game in progress.

It was a big step because the Chargers are still deemed Los Angeles' local team and therefore a secondary market because its affiliates' TV signals reach within 75 miles of the Chargers’ stadium. By rule, all secondary markets must carry in their entirety all road games of their local team.

I reached out to Masonson again Sunday to figure out why the league had suddenly changed their stance on showing the ending of an early game still in doubt before switching to the late game.

“Last year, we explained that moving forward we would take this type of situation into account for secondary markets, balancing many different factors and conflicting audience desires,” Masonson said. “Los Angeles, a former AFC West market, was always scheduled to receive in its entirety the crucial AFC West matchup between Philip Rivers and the Chargers and Peyton Manning and the Broncos -- teams separated by only two games in the standings. This season, we moved the late-game doubleheader kickoff back 10 minutes, which has eliminated the vast majority of game overlaps.”

Who cares if Los Angeles is a former AFC West market? Los Angeles hasn’t had an NFL team in 18 years. Does the NFL think there is some kind of contingent of AFC West fans here, still actively following the divisional race?

Maybe L.A. would care about the Chargers-Broncos game if it were the last week of the season and they were tied in the division or if one team were one game back and could win the division, but that wasn’t the case. The Chargers were two games back heading into the game and are now three games back after the game.

Besides, anyone who has made the 125-mile drive from downtown L.A. to Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego can tell you Los Angeles shouldn’t be viewed as the Chargers’ "secondary market." Calling the Chargers L.A.'s local team is as absurd as calling the San Diego Padres L.A.'s local team. It makes no sense.

I wanted to give Masonson a chance to add something more to his explanation. Maybe even an apology from the league to fans who had invested over three hours of their Sunday into the Cowboys-Browns game, only to be left with commercials and commentary as the game was decided in the final seconds.

“There's nothing for me to add,” Masonson said. “We said we would consider this moving forward, but that there are a number of factors and audience desires to consider. Every situation is not the same.”

The only situation that remains the same for NFL fans in Los Angeles, it seems, is not being able to watch the end of an exciting early game if the Chargers have a late road game the same day.