Hall of Fame Inductee Profile: Val Pinchbeck

By Carolyn Braff
Val
Pinchbeck was as instrumental in the growth of the National Football
League as any commissioner. As NFL VP of broadcasting, Pinchbeck spent
four decades smoothing the relationships between the increasingly
powerful league and its growing number of broadcast partners, while
quietly solving the 256-piece puzzle of the season schedule with
expertise unmatched by man or machine.
“Part of the secret to
the success of the National Football League has been its partnership
with its broadcasters,” explains Dennis Lewin, former SVP of production
for ABC Sports and Pinchbeck’s successor at the NFL. “At the end of the
day, the man who was responsible for that relationship with those
broadcasters for the longest period of time, and especially in its
growth years, was Val Pinchbeck.”
Pinchbeck made a name for
himself as sports information director at Syracuse University during
the Jim Brown, Ernie Davis glory years of Orange Athletics. In 1966,
Pinchbeck joined the professional ranks as director of special events
for the AFL. When the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, he got a job in the
commissioner’s office and became director of broadcasting in 1978. In
1990, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue elevated him to VP of broadcasting
and production.
“Val’s main role was being the liaison between
the broadcasters and the league, but it was really beyond that: it was
managing the relationship,” Lewin says. “Val would always deal with the
partners in such a way that everybody understood that Val was working
for the good of the whole.”
With an easy-going persona and a
reasonable approach, Pinchbeck believed in dialogue, working to achieve
consensus among broadcasters all vying for the same games.
“Val
had the perfect personality for that part of the job,” says Don
Ohlmeyer, former producer for ABC and NBC Sports. “He was able to
stick-handle his way through the vipers that all wanted the same thing.”
“The
way he held all those diverse pieces together, internally for the
league and teams and externally for all of the network and media
partners, set a standard for any other sports league,” Tagliabue says.
“There was no ego, no arrogance, very few confrontations. He made
certain that everybody got value for the rights fees they paid.”
Relentlessly
passionate about being the best, Pinchbeck attended as many NFL games
as he could, staying close enough to the fans to keep abreast of what
they thought of his precious product.
“He really felt that it
was a huge failure if he and his people were not out there every
weekend watching what’s going on in the stadiums and with the
networks,” Tagliabue says.
“He pretty much lived for his job,” says son Val Pinchbeck III. “His work was one of his biggest passions.”
Pinchbeck
is best known for his prowess at manually crafting the NFL playing
schedule, which he did for 30 years. Working on a peg board with the
weeks of the season down the left side and the teams playing across the
top ⎯ both numbers that changed during his tenure ⎯ Pinchbeck spent
months solving each season’s 256-game jigsaw puzzle. No schedule was
complete until he had ensured that each matchup was good in his mind,
good for the teams, and good for television.
“To do the
schedule, Val would literally work seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a
day, from mid February until the middle of May,” Lewin says. “And he
was a genius at it.”
“The more network interests we had to
reconcile and the larger the league became, the more complicated it
became to make the schedule,” Tagliabue says. “Val knew instinctively
what would be the right balance for the fans and what would be the
right balance for all the networks.”
Taking into consideration
such factors as shared stadium usage, the possibility of an NFL city’s
baseball team’s playing in the World Series, and the need to avoid home
games on Yom Kippur in heavily Jewish areas, Pinchbeck’s thought
process was not an easy one to automate, try as the NFL might.
“When
we went to NASA to describe the computer we wanted to build, we said we
wanted to build it like Val’s brain,” Lewin says. “In computer
language, they call them algorithms, so we told them we wanted to
create a Valgorithm.”
The computer was somewhat successful;
Pinchbeck eventually used one to help him finish the middle four weeks
of the schedule. But oftentimes, the computer could not fill in the
blanks, and Pinchbeck would go back to his pegboard, adjust some pieces
of the puzzle, and finish the schedule by hand.
Just as a
computer has yet to fully duplicate Pinchbeck’s scheduling sorcery, no
one will ever replace his dedication, emotion, and commitment to the
National Football League.

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