While the NBA, NHL and MLB seasons remain very much in limbo, the NFL is confident football will be played in 2020. Per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk on NBC Sports, the odds of the league canceling its 2020 campaign are “extremely small.” According to Florio’s sources, current coronavirus models would have to be proven “dramatically incorrect” for the NFL to scrap its upcoming season.
Obviously significant hurdles still exist—the league can’t proceed without approval from governors of all states with NFL stadiums. Delays on that front could push the regular season back several weeks, with some anticipating a February 28 Super Bowl. However, the NFL expects testing for COVID-19 to be readily available by August, allowing players, coaches, administrators and stadium staff to be tested without receiving preferential treatment.
While some have suggested a “Bio-Dome” approach for re-opening the league, the NFL is hoping stadiums will be open to fans as soon as Week 1. Adding fans later in the year would pose complications with some arguing that it would create a competitive advantage for teams playing in louder home environments like the Vikings, Saints and Seahawks. At-risk patrons—specifically elderly fans and anyone with pre-existing health conditions—will be advised to stay home, though the NFL will not enforce “checkerboard” seating with social distancing near impossible with all the movement between seats, restrooms and stadium concession stands. Fans attending games will be doing so at their own risk with the league assuming no liability for anyone who catches COVID-19 at an NFL stadium.
Despite the continued prevalence of COVID-19 in America and elsewhere, the league plans to unveil its full 16-game, regular-season schedule (the 17-game season approved in the new collective bargaining agreement will not go into effect until 2021 at the earliest) within the next week. While other leagues have largely been absent amid the coronavirus outbreak, the NFL has remained front and center with last week’s “virtual” draft drawing record viewership. This year’s free agency, which saw Tom Brady stunningly change alliances after a historic 20-year stint in Foxboro, also generated enormous interest.
COVID-19 has rocked the sports landscape but amid the chaos, the NFL still sees a light at the end of the tunnel.