NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office has issued orders which prohibit mandatory local bubbles during the upcoming postseason games.  This was via a memo sent this Tuesday to all 32 clubs.  However, the league will continue to allow teams to house players in hotels on a voluntary basis.

Free Reign In The NFL

The mandate was expected after months of public and private discussion about how effective the league’s COVID-19 protocols were.  The severe impact that a delayed postseason game would have on the television schedules and the stadium bookings, was also taken into serious consideration.

Since the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) got together and agreed to place each team in what they called “intensive protocols” that limit in-person meetings and require higher levels of mask use, the league’s infection rates have significantly dropped this month.  So, ultimately, Goodell and the NFLPA decided that the existing protocols were a safer choice than the bubble plan.

Various professional sports leagues have been using the bubble format successfully this year since early in the pandemic.  All team personnel are housed in shared living quarters and multiple negative tests were required before anyone was allowed to enter the bubble environment.

However, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, has long been an outspoken opponent of that approach for the NFL, mostly because of the size of the teams and service personnel which make it a much bigger logistical problem.   Dr. Sills added that the chance of a team outbreak was probably higher in a bubble if an infection managed to get inside the bubble with all the players and coaches under one roof.

Both the players union and Goodell’s office were also concerned about the mental health implications of isolating their personnel for weeks or even a month during the holiday season.

According to the memo from the NFL Commissioner’s office, “This decision is based upon an analysis of the frequency of positive cases in the league compared to the risk of significant spread among players and staff gathered for an extensive period of time at one hotel.”

Some Restrictions Apply

During the postseason, players and coaches who do stay at a team sponsored hotel will be required to wear electronic tracking devices. The leagues finance committee has also signed off on funding for each team to use two charter planes during the postseason, increasing physical distancing flexibility.

The memo from the league offices also mandated that daily testing continue for seven days after the completion of a team’s season.  The memo went on to clarify that players who are cleared on game day from isolation protocols will be eligible to participate in the games.

Finally the memo changed the ‘return-to-play protocols for asymptomatic individuals, who will no longer be allowed to return after two consecutive negative tests and instead must wait a full 10 days after the positive specimen was passed while also getting clearance from a physician.

NFL COVID-19 Vaccine No Time Soon

So now, the long awaited vaccine is being distributed to front-line health care workers and old folks in nursing homes and such.  Big strong football players are way down on the list and probably won’t be receiving the shots until late spring or summer in the off season.

That being said, the debate comes up again about the teams staying in a bubble to avoid the virus, however that seems to have already been settled.

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL players union, told reporters on Tuesday, “When it comes to the vaccine, we will never jump the line or do anything that would take away resources from those people who need it first and foremost. And I’m pretty sure, well, I know the league feels exactly the same way.”