IF THE NFL PLAYS, IT WILL BE UNLIKE ANY SEASON YET
At the mercy of a virus that is rampant, games could be rescheduled or cancelled
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.