Val Pinchbeck was as instrumental in the growth of the National Football League as any commissioner. As the NFL’s vice president of broadcasting, Pinchbeck spent four decades smoothing relationships between the increasingly powerful NFL and its growing number of broadcast partners, while quietly solving the league’s scheduling puzzle 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, Pinchbeck’s successor. “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 began his football-centric career as sports information director at Syracuse University before joining the AFL in 1966. After the AFL-NFL merger, he worked his way up to director of broadcasting before Commissioner Paul Tagliabue elevated him to vice president of broadcasting and production in 1990.
Pinchbeck’s main role was to serve as liaison between the broadcasters and the league, but, more than that, he managed their relationship. “Val would always deal with the partners in such a way that everybody understood Val was working for the good of the whole,” says Lewin.
With an easy-going persona and a reasonable approach, Pinchbeck believed in dialogue, working to achieve consensus among broadcasters.
“Val had the perfect personality for that part of the job. He was able to stick-handle his way through the vipers that all wanted the same thing.”
Pinchbeck attended as many NFL games as he could, staying close enough to the fan 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. Working on a pegboard with the weeks of the season down the left side and the teams across the top ¾ numbers that both changed during his tenure ¾ Pinchbeck spent months solving each season’s 256-game jigsaw puzzle. No schedule was complete until Pinchbeck 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.”
Instinctively taking into consideration such factors as shared stadium usage, the possibility of an NFL city’s baseball team playing in the World Series, and the need to avoid home games in heavily Jewish areas on Yom Kippur, Pinchbeck’s thought process was not an easy one to automate.
“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.”
Just as a computer has yet to fully duplicate Pinchbeck’s scheduling sorcery, since his death in 2004, no one has replaced his dedication, passion, and commitment to the National Football League.