While almost all the major sports leagues – NBA, MLB, NHL and more around the world – have been forced to a rather rude stop because of the coronavirus, the NFL has remained relatively unscathed and has been getting ready for a return since.  The league was lucky in that it had already wrapped up its season before COVID-19 slammed into the U.S. with all its force, and the next season’s games aren’t scheduled to begin until the fall.

The NFL Draft was a unique show this year, but that was the extent, so far, of any alterations to the football playbook.  If the league has its way, it will be the only alteration, too, and is telling teams to start getting ready to get the season underway as planned.  Franchises now have a week to put their houses in order.

Getting Ready For NFL Return

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been adamant about keeping football ready to return on schedule.  He refuses to accept the fact that games might have to be delayed, and football fans (as well as more than a few sportsbooks) are hoping he’s correct.  While Goodell won’t make the final call, he’s doing everything he can to ensure that football is ready for a September kickoff, and that the league can prove ahead of time that there’s no reason to force any delays.

The commissioner sent a letter to team owners Wednesday, outlining what they are required to do in preparation of the start of season.  He is ordering them to follow a number of protocols, adding that the franchises must have their respective plans in place no later than May 15 for further review.  Tom Pelissero of NFL Network got his hands on the memo, subsequently sharing it on Twitter in order to get football fans’ hopes up.

Goodell led off by giving NFL team owners a little pep talk about a return.  He stated, “The past few months have been the most uncertain times that any of us has experienced.  It is impossible to project what the next few months will bring. Uninformed commentary that speculates on how individual clubs or the league will address a range of hypothetical contingencies serves no constructive purpose and instead confuses our fans and business partners, complicates the operations of other clubs, and distracts from the careful planning that is needed right now.”

From there, he explained what the teams need to do in order to have their facilities approved to be reopened.  Among the different guidelines being established, the teams have to get approval from state and local authorities in order to reopen their doors, and they must also create an “infections response team” that is capable of stepping in and adequately identifying any possible recurrences of the coronavirus, or any of its many cousins.

Additionally, anyone inside the facilities is required to wear a facemask at all times.  They will also be grilled about their current health and will have to have their temperatures taken before being allowed in.

Phase One Of The Countdown Begins

This is meant to be a first step toward a full reintegration of football players and their stadiums, but there are limitations during this phase.  Only those players who were receiving treatment for injuries prior to stadiums being locked down on March will be approved to enter.  It may only be a small step, but it is still a step in the right direction.

In addition to those players being allowed back in, teams would be able to see as much as half of their non-player workforce getting back on the job, up to a maximum of 75 workers on any given day.  After phase one is stable and functioning smoothly, stage two would be introduced, allowing more employees and possibly more players to return.  Currently, though, there is no word on when that phase two might actually start.

There will still be more procedures and protocols needed – most notably, the NFL Players Association is going to have to weigh in on the subject.  It will also have to discuss with the NFL any pay strategies for players before it agrees to allow the athletes back into action.

Goodell wants football, Trump wants football and America wants football.  There’s a good chance that the NFL season will be ready to return on schedule, although everyone is remaining guardedly optimistic.  If Jay Glazer of The Athletic is correct, though, “every indication points toward [the NFL] trying to have a full season with fans being included.”  We can only hope he’s right.