If the NFL made one thing clear this week, it’s that the league is currently planning to. However, even the best laid plans often go awry. Even if the league does end up playing all 16 games, there are likely going to have to be some dramatic changes made to the schedule if the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t blown over by the time the 2020 season kicks off in September.
Basically, this means that the NFL is going to have to start planning for any and all obstacles that could be tossed its way between now and the start of the season. Although the league hasn’t revealed any coronavirus-related contingency plans for 2020, Falcons owner Arthur Blank did offer some informed speculation on what the NFL might do this year if the pandemic hasn’t subsided by this fall.
“I could easily see [training] camps being shorter, players being tested [for coronavirus] on a daily basis, things of that nature,” Blank told NBC Sports. “No fan attendance [at training camp]. Things like that. We may have fewer preseason games, which probably wouldn’t be the end of the world. But I think by September, my hope is by the time the regular season starts, that we’ll be able to bring people together in some form or fashion in a safe manner and play.”
Blank definitely brings up several interesting scenarios. For one, the NFL — and possibly all sports leagues — are likely going to have to test players. If one player gets diagnosed with COVID-19, that could be a disaster for his entire team if no one knew he had it. The player could potentially spread it to his teammates, his coaches and his opponents.
Blank’s idea of players being tested might happen even if the pandemic has subsided some by August. The NFL will also have to decide what will happen to a player who is diagnosed with COVID-19. The player would have to spend at least two weeks in quarantine and that would raise a lot of questions, from whether or not they would count against the roster to whether. The league would also have to figure out what its going to do if several players from the same team were diagnosed.
One other thing Blank brought up was the fact that training camp might have to go on without any fans in attendance. If the CDC still has rules in effect in the fall that prohibit large gatherings, the NFL would almost certainly put rules in place that would prohibit fans from attending training camp practices.
Despite the grim scenario, Blank does believe that the NFL teams will eventually play 16 games in 2020.
“I think the NFL’s going to be fine,” Blank said. “I don’t mean it won’t be changed. It is being changed now.”
CBSSports.com’s Jonathan Jones came up with two contingency plans for what the NFL can do if it has to shorten the regular season and you can . As for the NFL, the league’s executive vice president/general counsel, Jeff Pash, for a 16-game season, but that it’s impossible to know right now if that will happen.
“That’s our expectation,” Pash said. “Am I certain of that? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow. But I’m planning on it, and in the same way, we’re planning on having a full season… We’re still in March, so it’s quite a few months between now and when our season would begin. The belief and the information that we have is leading us to continue on focusing on a season that starts on time and played in a normal way.”
The fact of the matter is that sports are an afterthought right now and there’s no guarantee that things will be even remotely back to normal by September when the 2020 NFL season is scheduled to kick off.