So I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the 2020 NFL season is in dire, dire jeopardy. With catastrophe looming on the horizon, I feel like the scientist at the beginning of every B-list disaster movie: I think I might know how to save the season that we all so desperately want to see, but it’s not going to be easy.
Never was that more apparent than this morning when news broke that MLB’s Miami Marlins had been stricken with a full blown outbreak of COVID-19. The Marlins have been in recent contact with MLB teams in both Philadelphia and Atlanta, who both now need to be isolated and re-tested. Mere days into the MLB’s grand reopening, games are being cancelled and the continuation of the season is already in doubt. Live sports have managed to return somewhat safely in Europe, but buoyed by staggering incompetence by our elected officials, COVID-19 has continued to utterly throttle the United States. One thing is clear: if the NFL insists on playing the season as is, in the current climate, they will experience similar outbreaks over the course of the season.
Making matters worse, an outbreak of this magnitude would be even more disastrous for the NFL. Unlike MLB, the NFL only has 16 games. Being forced to cancel games, even for two weeks, would completely wreck the NFL’s schedule. Just a few incidents such as this would make playoff seeding virtually impossible. The season would likely become a train wreck very quickly.
If you’re looking for a ray of hope in all of this, there is a model of success that the NFL could potentially follow: it’s early, but the returns on the NBA and NHL’s COVID plans of using “bubble” or “hub” cities to isolate and protect the players have been extremely promising. If there is a path forward for playing sports in the midst of the apocalypse, setting up a bubble seems like the best way to go. There was plenty of time for the NFL to make such preparations; unlike other sports leagues, they’ve had months to observe and plan before the season was set to officially start. Instead, the NFL blundered its way through the offseason with seemingly no plans or precautions in place, apparently deluding themselves that COVID would be under control by August and September. Instead, things have gotten worse, and setting up a bubble or other safety measures will require time that the NFL no longer has. They’ve completely squandered their advantage.
To put it mildly, the NFL’s lack of foresight has put themselves way behind the sticks on third down. If there is going to be a football season, the only hope they have is to punt…delay the season, to save the season.
While COVID is currently peaking in many states, things might potentially look far more promising come winter. Things could start to calm down in Texas and Florida as they did in New Jersey and New York. And even if it doesn’t, by pushing the season to December, the NFL would give itself plenty of time to potentially set up, organize and negotiate a bubble or hub city approach with the NFLPA. Delaying the season would also give teams a chance to have a slower, more controlled ramp up period with more practice time, which would mean a higher quality of football with less serious injuries. In short, it can do nothing but improve the NFL’s chances. The worst case scenario is that we get to December and COVID has remained equally or even more widespread, but if that’s going to happen, then starting the season in September is doomed to fail anyway! So let’s give ourselves a fighting chance.
I’ll conclude with this: lately there’s been an extremely misguided narrative that those of us in the media who are realistic about the challenges that COVID will present to organized sports are somehow “rooting” for the season to be canceled. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m a recent college graduate and this is my first ever job covering professional sports. I have student loans and health insurance to worry about. It isn’t an exaggeration when I say that there is no one on earth that wants football to happen this year more than me. Which is exactly why I need to be realistic about what’s happening in our country right now. COVID-19 cannot simply be wished away with “positivity” or “good vibes” or whatever. Having football this year is going to require pragmatism and honesty. Going in half cocked like the NFL is currently planning on doing could have disastrous consequences…and the potential cancellation of the season isn’t the only thing at stake. The NFL could be jeopardizing the long term health and lives of a lot of people, and instead of charging into the season with a suicide mission, the NFL has a responsibility to their fans, media members, players, and to the world at large to take a step back and figure out a way to play their season the right way.