On Sunday afternoon, people in Buffalo aren't going to be able to watch their Bills take on the Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The reason? The game is scheduled to be blacked out because of the NFL's blackout rule, which requires all teams to sell a certain number of tickets every week in order for their games to be shown on TV. And the Bills still have about 16,000 tickets remaining for the game, so the game isn't going to be shown. It's the third time that this has happened to the Bills this season, too—although the other two times, Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. stepped up and purchased the available tickets himself to allow the game to be shown on TV. But it doesn't sound like he's going to do that this Sunday.

This isn't a new problem for NFL fans. There has actually been a rise in blackouts in the NFL over the course of the last year or two. Partly because of the high cost of NFL tickets and partly because of the downtrodden economy, the Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego ChargersOakland Raiders, and Bills all had games blacked out last year. The Chargers had a game blacked out this season. The Bills look like they're headed in that direction now, too. And the Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars have both worked closely with the league to reduce the number of tickets that they have to sell in order to avoid blackouts. Without those reductions, the NFL blackout issue would likely be even bigger than it is.

However, the era of NFL blackouts could be over soon. According to Bloomberg TV, the FCC is going to attempt to do away with the sports blackout rule in the near future:

Sadly, that doesn't mean that blackouts will go away altogether. The NFL could still, in theory, negotiate for blackouts to take place through private agreements with cable and satellite providers. But if the FCC is successful in eliminating the blackout rule, the total number of blackouts could be reduced dramatically. And we're betting that that would make a whole lot of Bills fans out there happy. Because even though their team sucks this season, they should be able to decide whether or not they want to watch their team suck, not the blackout rule.

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[via Bloomberg TV]