The NFL is entering the homestretch of its 2020 season plagued by the coronavirus pandemic, but questions still remain on how the league can safely get to the finish line on Super Bowl Sunday.
On Wednesday, commissioner Roger Goodell attempted to address some of these concerns in a conference call with league executives, in which lauded the job the league has done as well as its protocols.
“It’s a remarkable achievement to reach this point and we are proud of our players and all personnel for their tireless work and commitment,” Goodell said, via ProFootballTalk. “Like our teams, we are focused on finishing strong.”
Goodell’s comments were made just hours before a 3:40 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon kickoff between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers – a game originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night and was postponed three times due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Ravens organization.
Perhaps the biggest concern would be what if a similar situation were to happen in the postseason?
Goodell said that “all options are on the table” for the postseason and that they were in active discussions about what changes may be needed to protocols. But when asked specifically about a postseason bubble, the commissioner sang a different tune.
“We don’t see the bubble as most refer to it in one location,” he said, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “We feel strongly our protocols are working. We’re willing to adjust and adapt those protocols, take additional steps. But I don’t see us doing the bubble in the sense that the media focuses on it.”
A bubble environment resulted in zero positive tests for the NBA and NHL and for MLB, which had a modified version of the bubble, one player who tested positive at the very end of the postseason.
The Ravens had 21 players placed on the Reserve/COVID list within the past week. The league as a whole had 65 players and 95 staff members tested positive between Nov. 15 and Nov. 28.
“We have said many times this was not going to be easy,” Goodell said on the call. “COVID will continue to post a major challenge for the NFL, as it does for everyone.”
In addition to the Ravens drama, the Denver Broncos played Sunday’s game with a practice squad wide receiver at quarterback, which led to some outcry that the game should have been postponed a la Ravens-Steelers.
Goodell explained that the Broncos played their game because there was no active spread beyond the quarterbacks who were infected, while they needed to contain the spread within the Ravens. He reiterated that games would only be postponed for health and safety reasons, not competitive reasons.
“Let me be crystal clear: Health decisions will take precedence over competitive and business interests,” he said. “We follow the facts, we follow the science and the recommendations of our medical experts are first and foremost the bedrock of our scheduling decisions.”
The NFL has been prepared to institute a Week 18 to makeup games that cannot be rescheduled during the week, but it is clear that the league is doing everything it can to avoid that. With five weeks remaining, Goodell is hopeful that they can make it through the regular season.
“It will take a partnership and discipline to complete this season,” he said. “I’m confident we’ll be able to do it.”