Football routinely is played in the elements. Except when the elements endanger life and limb.
But when it comes to whether the weather will be so cold that it’s too cold from a safety standpoint, the NFL has no predetermined temperature reading that would postpone a game.
“We don’t have a number, no,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tells PFT via email.
It’s a bit surprising that the league hasn’t worked with experts to identify a temperature at which it automatically becomes unsafe to be outdoors for extended periods of time. That’s likely because the league has never had to do it.
After Sunday’s game at Green Bay, the NFL may have to do it.
Currently, the Weather.com forecast calls for a high temperature — a high temperature — of five degrees below zero. The low for Sunday will be 20 below.
For the legendary Ice Bowl, the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero.
Making the situation more serious, the National Weather Service has issued a wind chill advisory from 6:00 p.m. CT Saturday until 6:00 p.m. CT Sunday, at which time the advisory converts to a warning: “FROST BITE ON EXPOSED SKIN COULD OCCUR WITHIN 30 MINUTES SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY… AND AS LITTLE AS 10 MINUTES SUNDAY NIGHT THROUGH TUESDAY MORNING.”
Players and officials will be exposed to those conditions for roughly 90 minutes in the first half of the game, along with another 90 minutes in the second half — even more if there’s overtime. And while fans can, in theory, exit the seating area and look for a warmer spot in the stadium, how warm will any spot in the stadium be, other than the restrooms?
Of course, fans can choose to leave early or not come at all. Players, officials, stadium workers, and others who are employed to be there have no real choice. (The players and the officials are represented by unions, which at some point have a duty to intervene on behalf of their constituents.)
For all parties involved, there are few viable options. The NFL could play the game on Saturday, when the temperature will spike to a balmy 25 during the day. That would entail possibly moving one of the Saturday playoff games to Sunday, or playing three on Saturday, with the Green Bay game perhaps landing in the currently vacant 1:00 p.m. ET time slot. Alternative, the NFL could flip the order of the games on Sunday, with 49ers-Packers kicking off (and in turn ending) well before the wind chill warning kicks in at 6:00 p.m. local time.
Moving the game to Monday definitely won’t work. That day, the projected high temperature is 14 below.