The two-page memo sent Monday by the Commissioner to all teams includes a two-paragraph passage that trots out the nuclear option for the league to ensure compliance with all COVID-19 protocols: The forfeiture of games.
“There have been breaches to the protocols and individual players, staff, and clubs have been disciplined as a result,” Goodell writes. “We will not only conduct reviews in cases of multiple positive tests at one club, but the league and union will continue to conduct inspections of club facilities to ensure protocol compliance. If it is determined that club personnel or players failed to have followed the protocols, discipline will be issued and will escalate where noncompliance continues. Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.”
The league threatened the potential loss of draft picks last week, in connection with violations of the requirement that all sideline personnel wear (properly) face coverings. This latest warning applies to situations like the one that arose last week in Tennessee, where an outbreak among the Titans compelled a shifting of the team’s Steelers-Titans game to Week Seven, the shifting of the Steelers-Ravens game to Week Eight, the moving of Baltimore’s bye to Week Seven, and the Titans and Steelers taking an unscheduled bye in Week Four.
Forfeiting games is a major step, and it’s unclear whether the threat is real or idle. If games go away, the league would owe refunds to the networks for the untelevised games.
However, if reckless behavior by teams potentially results in far more than one game being not televised, declaring a forfeit, scrapping a game, and refunding the money paid for the broadcast rights of that game could be money well spent.