With the full launch of training camps for all 32 teams just less than a week away, the NFL is intensifying its efforts to coax players into receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, laying out strict protocols that will penalize teams should a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players put the league's schedule in jeopardy.
In a memo issued to teams Thursday, the NFL said if a game is unable to be rescheduled during the 18-week regular-season window due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team experiencing the outbreak will be forced to forfeit the game. That team also would be responsible for covering lost revenue from that game. Meanwhile, neither team's players would receive their weekly game checks.
“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the league said.
This differs from last season, when contingency plans were made to use an 18th week to make up games canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Ultimately, however, the extra week was not required and no contests were canceled, though the NFL did postpone more than a dozen games due to COVID-19 situations.
The NFL explained that all teams are expected to have their teams ready to play each week. The league acknowledges that in some cases, outbreaks are out of a squad’s control.
“If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams,” the memo said.
But the league will not apply the same leniency to teams with outbreaks among unvaccinated players.
The memo said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also has the right to impose further sanctions against any team that prompts a cancellation due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players.
The NFL and NFL Players Association have strongly urged team employees and players to receive vaccines, but the players have not officially been required to do so. The NFL, however, has incentivized getting the vaccine by establishing protocols that will permit vaccinated players to operate freely both at team facilities and away from their squads’ headquarters. Meanwhile, unvaccinated players still must adhere to strict protocols and can’t leave their rooms for meals while on road trips, among other restrictions.
Additionally, vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 but report as asymptomatic are permitted to return to duty after two negative tests within 24 hours of one another. Unvaccinated players must go through a 10-day isolation period before being permitted to return.
The NFL’s player body, which includes roughly 2,880 players, remains far from fully vaccinated, however. As of Thursday, 78% of players league-wide had received at least one vaccine, a league spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports. Fourteen teams have at least 85% of their players fully vaccinated.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL introduces forfeit rule for COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated