When the coronavirus pandemic started shutting down every major North American sports league, it was hard not to think the NFL was the luckiest of the bunch.
The NBA and NHL had to shut down seasons in progress, forcing them to wait months until they could restart and play their postseason in isolation. MLB was weeks from the start of its season, and now faces the prospect of an abbreviated 2020 season with no fans in attendance.
The NFL ... had to hold its draft remotely, as well as other offseason programs. That was inconvenient, but not as financially catastrophic as the other leagues. More importantly, the NFL still had nearly six months from Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test until its season was supposed to begin. Surely that was enough time for the United States to get the coronavirus under control, right?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is increasingly beginning to look like “no,” and one team leader indicated the league is running out of time before it has to confront the idea of a season played during a pandemic.
Packers CEO: ‘Several difficult decisions’ are coming
In his monthly column on the Green Bay Packers’ website, team CEO Mark Murphy addressed the threat posed by the continuing rise of coronavirus cases. He sounded like a man trying to prime his audience for some bad news, saying several difficult decisions would be coming in the next few weeks.
From the Packers:
With training camps set to start in less than a month and with COVID-19 showing no signs of slowing down, the Packers will have to make several difficult decisions in the coming weeks. Since the pandemic arrived earlier this year, NFL teams have had the benefit of time. Unlike professional basketball, hockey and baseball teams who were either in the middle of their seasons or about to start, we were in the beginning of our offseason. NFL teams were able to handle free agency, the draft and their entire offseason programs virtually.
We've made decisions along the way, but the major ones we've been able to put off until we have more information. With so much uncertainty, it has made sense that we have not made decisions until we absolutely have to. As we near the start of training camp, though (rookies will start practice on July 21 and veterans on the 28th), time is no longer on our side.
We are now two months and change from the NFL’s season opener on Sept. 10 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. Even less time remains until the preseason (if there is one). And, as Murphy puts it, the NFL is still waiting to decide if it should even let fans into its games, not to mention holding games as scheduled at all.
Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t very sure about that latter prospect, and the recent rash of NBA and MLB coronavirus cases isn’t very encouraging when thinking about what it would take to prevent NFL players from contracting the virus.
Murphy called the choice of changing the schedule a league decision, while allowing fans into games will be up to clubs. However, the NFL has already decided the front few rows will be tarped off to protect players from exposure to fans and get some advertising revenue in the process.
The NFL really doesn’t want to play games without fans
Given that COVID-19 cases have been skyrocketing in the last few weeks with many states hesitant to shut down again, it’s hard to imagine a tarp will be enough for the NFL to hold this season responsibly when it comes to public health.
Holding games in fan-less stadiums is almost certain to be necessary if the NFL doesn’t want to be responsible for a massive number of new coronavirus cases. Even if it allows some teams to do whatever their states allow them to, you’re still looking at an uneven mess.
Given that MLB’s very public squabbling was essentially built on the owners’ claim that games with full prorated player pay and without fans would be financially unfeasible, that’s probably not something the NFL wants to confront until it’s absolutely necessary.
However, that time might be now, and the NFL soon may not look as fortunate compared to the NBA and MLB.
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