One hundred days and counting. That’s how far away football fans are from seeing the first kickoff of the upcoming regular NFL ’20 season – provided there aren’t any setbacks between now and then. The defending Super Bowl Champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, will take on the Houston Texans on September 10 and the first kickoff of that game, should it happen, will also signal that the tides are turning in the fight against the coronavirus.
Around the world, sports leagues like Germany’s Bundesliga and the UK’s Premier League are back in action, but nothing is happening in the U.S.
The NBA and NHL may be the closest to having a clear plan, while the MLB still continues to throw curveballs, but all of these are having to completely rewrite their playbooks to finish their seasons. The NFL, on the other hand, could be the only league to escape relatively unscathed from the COVID-19 fallout.
Persistence To Avoid Delays To NFL ’20 Season
The NFL has made it clear that it doesn’t want to delay the upcoming ’20 season even a single day, and has even hinted at allowing fans in the stands. League Commissioner Roger Goodell is extremely adamant about adhering to the schedule, even though he recognizes that certain concessions have to be made.
During a recent press conference, he explained of the league’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, “As a league, and in partnership with the players’ association, we will continue to prepare and to adjust where necessary. I think this offseason has looked a lot different than it has in the past. We are proud that our key activities, such as free agency, the league year, the offseason programs and of course the draft, demonstrated that we can operate in new and innovative ways, so we are prepared for the 2020 season.”
In order to start the NFL regular season for ’20, players have to be able to train and practice. Just two weeks ago, team facilities began to reopen, allowing only limited numbers of players and support personnel to be in the facilities at the same time. This week, facilities will be opening even more, which is a requirement if the official offseason is going to wrap up on June 26, which would mark the end of a mandatory month-long resting period, as planned. However, from now until June 12, training and exercise programs are going to continue virtually, which might make the situation a little more problematic.
The NFL collective bargaining agreement has this one-month resting period in the contract, so any deviation has to be approved by both sides. Changes to the current NFL schedule for the ’20 season and a move off the June 26 deadline would require negotiations, as well as state and local government approval to allow further training and exercise programs in NFL facilities. In other words, there are still a lot of moving parts that have to be decided.
Even then, should these issues be properly addressed, there is still no guarantee that players will be willing to move forward. Health and safety are going to be at the forefront of everything they do, and the new NFL helmets with included anti-coronavirus visors may not be seen as enough to protect the athletes, and COVID-19 test kits have to be proven effective. According to the NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, “When we and the players’ association feel that we are at a point of satisfaction with that science, then we’ll be ready to move forward.”
Chance Of An MLB-like Economics Debacle
The NFL will most likely be watching MLB closely to see how it comes to terms with the arguments regarding how to handle who gets how much money. Team owners want players to take huge pay cuts and players aren’t willing to acquiesce. If MLB can’t reach a decision soon, there may not be any baseball, and the NFL will want to see what happens. One thing has become blatantly obvious – players determine the course of action.
Who Will Know What When?
The NFL has kept a steady course during the entire coronavirus debacle – everything points to a regular ’20 season starting at the regular time with regular participation. It has only deviated from this course at the last minute when it realized its goal was untenable. With this in mind, there’s not much reason to get overly excited about a normal NFL season this year, but there is still reason to be cautiously optimistic. At this point, it is literally just one day at a time.