At the mercy of a virus that is ram­pant, games could be resched­uled or can­celled

Ottawa Citizen - - Obituaries - MARK MASKE

In a typ­i­cal season, the NFL is all about com­pet­i­tive eq­uity. It places a pre­mium on en­sur­ing that each team is given a fair and equal chance to win games.

But this prom­ises to be a very dif­fer­ent kind of season for the NFL, if there is one at all, as the sport at­tempts to op­er­ate amid the pan­demic. That will re­quire a very dif­fer­ent mind­set for play­ers, coaches, fans and team and league lead­ers.

For there to be a season, par­tic­i­pants and in­ter­ested ob­servers sim­ply will have to ac­cept that things are likely to be ran­dom and un­equal and un­fair. With the NFL at the mercy of a virus that is ram­pant in parts of the coun­try, games could be resched­uled or can­celled en­tirely. Teams could be re­lo­cated. Play­ers and coaches who test pos­i­tive face be­ing quar­an­tined, as do those who come in con­tact with in­fected in­di­vid­u­als. If fans are al­lowed into games at all, crowd re­stric­tions could vary from state to state, city to city.

“What­ever is done has to be done with the bottom line be­ing safety, not com­pe­ti­tion,” said one per­son fa­mil­iar with the NFL’s planning. “Nor­mally, we go by what’s com­pet­i­tively fair. That can’t be the fo­cus this year.”

The com­pet­i­tive im­bal­ances are play­ing out in Ma­jor League Base­ball, another non-bub­ble sport strug­gling to keep its restarted season go­ing. The MLB sched­ule has been dis­rupted.

The Toronto Blue Jays were dis­lodged from their home. Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred ac­knowl­edged over the week­end it’s pos­si­ble that not ev­ery team will com­plete its 60-game reg­u­lar season. The stand­ings and play­off spots would be de­ter­mined by win­ning per­cent­ages.

It prom­ises to be no dif­fer­ent in the NFL.

The reg­u­lar season could end up be­ing 10 weeks or 12 weeks in­stead of the planned 17. One team could play 12 games while another plays 14 games and another plays all 16, with the stand­ings be­ing set by win­ning per­cent­ages. A team could play more road games than home games. One team could have some fans at­tend­ing home games — although that seems far-fetched now — while oth­ers do not. A team could have its start­ing quar­ter­back in quar­an­tine for a key game. Another could sud­denly be with­out three starters on its of­fen­sive line.

“It’s go­ing to be hard,” the per­son with knowl­edge of the league’s planning said. “You can say luck will factor into it. But it’s go­ing to take so much ef­fort. ... Coaches will com­plain about anything. But they’ll also be the kings of ad­just­ment.”

The chal­lenges have become ev­i­dent even dur­ing the early days of NFL train­ing camps. Quar­ter­backs Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Gard­ner Min­shew of the Jack­sonville Jaguars were placed on their teams’ COVID-19 re­serve lists, which are all-en­com­pass­ing lists for play­ers who tested pos­i­tive for the virus and for those found through con­tact-trac­ing to have been po­ten­tially ex­posed. Min­shew was ac­ti­vated Tues­day. Philadel­phia Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus, the team con­firmed Sun­day night.

“Two start­ing NFL quar­ter­backs (Stafford, Min­shew) and one head coach (Ped­er­son) on COVID list,” for­mer Green Bay Pack­ers front office ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Brandt wrote on Twit­ter. “It is hap­pen­ing in Au­gust and naive to think it won’t hap­pen in the fall. Com­pet­i­tive bal­ance will not be para­mount in 2020.”

The NFL’s rule-mak­ing com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee and the league office’s foot­ball op­er­a­tions de­part­ment are study­ing spe­cific sce­nar­ios by which a team would be shut down, an en­tire week of games would be post­poned dur­ing the reg­u­lar season or play would be halted en­tirely leaguewide.

It’s not clear, how­ever, whether the com­mit­tee and the league will make con­crete rec­om­men­da­tions. Plenty of leeway could be given to NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell to deal with what­ever cri­sis might arise.

“Some peo­ple want to cod­ify things,” said the per­son fa­mil­iar with the league’s in­ner work­ings, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of a topic that few in the NFL are ad­dress­ing pub­licly. “I think you prob­a­bly need some guid­ing prin­ci­ples and then leave room for the com­mis­sioner to use his judg­ment.”

The out­breaks in MLB on two teams, the Mi­ami Mar­lins and St. Louis Car­di­nals, have un­der­scored the is­sues faced by a sport not op­er­at­ing in a bub­ble en­vi­ron­ment at a sin­gle site or in a small num­ber of hub cities. The NFL’s plans are much like MLB’s, with teams slated to play in their home cities and in their own sta­di­ums. NFL lead­ers have said that all is sub­ject to po­ten­tial re-eval­u­a­tion and ad­just­ment.

“Peo­ple have to adapt,” the per­son with knowl­edge of the NFL’s planning said. “You have to deal with it. It’s no worse than any­one else is deal­ing with. It’s a pan­demic.”

The Wash­ing­ton Post

I think you prob­a­bly need some guid­ing prin­ci­ples and then leave room for the com­mis­sioner to use his judg­ment.


Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers quar­ter­back Tom Brady works out at Ad­ven­tHealth Train­ing Cen­ter in Tampa on Tues­day. Plans for the up­com­ing NFL season are still up in the air.

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