In dealing with the inherent competitive advantage that comes from teams having fans present when other teams, due to the pandemic, cannot, there are two ways for the NFL to handle it. First, the NFL could acknowledge that there’s a competitive edge, but explain that the realities of the COVID-19 outbreak require certain irregularities. Second, the NFL could say there’s no competitive edge.
The NFL has chosen Door No. 2.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said that there’s no competitive advantage from some teams having fans present while others cannot. Goodell explained that he and the Competition Committee came to that conclusion after discussing the issue.
“We do not believe it’s a competitive advantage,” Goodell said. “We discussed it very early on with our Competition Committee and with our clubs. We do not see that. We obviously have varying capacities across the league, and from our standpoint, we want to invite our fans in if we can do it safely and we can do it with the full support of local officials. We think our fans want to come the stadium.”
Of course there’s a competitive advantage. Why deny it? It’s an odd look for the league to claim with a straight face that there’s no edge to having fans present when other teams can’t. While it’s not likely to be as stark as some teams having a full house and others having no fans at all, the general, bright-line distinction between fans and no fans is obvious.
Exacerbating the edge is the fact that the league is expected to use artificial noise at a constant level at games with no fans, but no artificial noise at games with fans present. This will make it easier for the home team, when fans are present, to operate its offense, because the fans will be quiet then.
The far better approach would be to simply acknowledge that the 2020 season will present plenty of actual and perceived inequities. And that’s fine; a season of football that is unfair at times is better than no football at all.