NFL inching closer to 'normal' with facility reopening protocols, but still in wait-and-see mode

Football season is getting closer by the second. The NFL is planning to have a normal season, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in the United States, a few things need to happen first.

Commissioner Roger Goodell took that first step toward normalcy on Wednesday in a memo sent to all 32 teams and obtained by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The memo outlines protocols for each team to reopen their club facilities, and set a deadline for those protocols to be in place.

Goodell outlines protocols for reopening team facilities

In the memo, Goodell laid out the protocols that every team should have in place to gradually reopen their facilities, which were developed in conjunction with the NFL’s chief medical officer Dr. Allen Stills, the NFLPA’s medical director Dr. Thom Mayer, the Duke University infectious disease physicians, the CDC and others.

"The protocols are intended to allow for a safe and phased reopening. The first phase would involve a number of non-player personnel — initially 50 percent of your non-player employees (up to a total of 75) on any single day unless state or local regulations require a lower number. Clubs would decide which employees could return to the facility and when once facilities open. No players would be permitted in the facility except to continue a course of therapy and rehabilitation that was underway when facilities were initially closed.

"...Clubs should take steps to have these protocols in place by Friday, May 15 in anticipation of being advised when club facilities will formally reopen."

Deciding who can enter each facility and when is just phase one of the reopening process, and Goodell wrote that he is working with the NFLPA on plans for the second phase. That phase is expected to include protocols for players entering facilities to work out.

ESPN also obtained a more detailed set of protocols that were sent to teams, which deal with things that each team must do when they do eventually reopen their facilities. Each team must get permission to reopen from state and local governments, have an appropriate stock of cleaning supplies on hand, and provide coronavirus safety and hygiene training for each employee returning to the facility. Every team must also create an infection-response team and designate one employee to be the first point of contact if an employee starts showing coronavirus symptoms.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's memo asks teams to have plans in place by May 15 to reopen their practice facilities. (Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's memo asks teams to have plans in place by May 15 to reopen their practice facilities. (Photo by Rich Graessle/PPI/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

NFL still in wait-and-see mode

Goodell set May 15 as the date for all teams to have their plans in place in anticipation of being told when they can reopen, but that’s not the same thing as setting a date for teams to actually reopen their facilities. That, as well as any other sweeping mandates, was missing from Goodell’s memo.

More protocols are expected to come after May 19, when NFL owners are scheduled to have their virtual league meeting, but the NFL has a unique advantage right now: time. With the NFL season not scheduled to start until Sept. 10, the league can wait and see what the NBA and MLB do and how well their plans work.

The NBA targeted May 8 as when they would start easing COVID-19 restrictions on practice facilities, but thus far only three teams will reportedly open their practice facilities on Friday. A number of teams are still not able to due to local and state mandates, and some teams are opting to stay closed even though local mandates have been eased.

MLB has yet to present a plan for anything, but that could change soon. MLB will reportedly present a plan for restarting spring training and starting the regular season to the MLBPA next week.

With the NBA and MLB both eager to get their suspended seasons back underway, the NFL can watch and learn from what they do. While all three leagues have vastly different formats, they all start the same way — with players needing safe access to practice facilities so they can start (or resume) training. Mistakes will inevitably be made as other sports resume operations, and the NFL has a chance to learn from them so they can avoid doing the same things.

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