As the reality of life amid the coronavirus pandemic continues to sink in, the NFL needs to be sinking its teeth into the reality that a normal football season won’t happen this year.
Given the predictions and projections for the ongoing spread of the virus, and in light of the reality that different NFL cities will experience the brunt of the outbreak at different times, it’s not ridiculous to envision all 2020 games being played in empty stadiums.
But even if no fans are present, how will teams be able to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread through a given locker room? It’s inevitable that multiple players will test positive, and that others will end up being exposed to the virus before the players who test positive are quarantined. Entire teams could be knocked out of action if the virus starts jumping from player to player.
So even if the season proceeds without fans in attendance, we’ll have to be ready for a given player or coach or whoever to be out of action for at least a couple of weeks, without warning.
There’s another way to have football. It’s an extreme idea, one that was floated to a G.M. earlier this week and mentioned in the Sunday mailbag and repeated during a visit with WFAN on Sunday afternoon: The NFL takes all teams to a location free from coronavirus, tests everyone on the way in, and then sequesters the entire league for the full duration of the season.
The Premier League reportedly is considering this approach as a way to finish its 2019-20 season. The NFL needs to be considering the feasibility of this approach as a way to play (and televise) the 256 regular-season games and 13 postseason games of the 2020 season.
One possibility would be to find a place literally in the middle of nowhere and build enough fields to play the various games on a given Sunday (and Saturday, if college football doesn’t happen in 2020) and enough rooms to house the players, coaches, trainers, broadcasters, etc. for 17 weeks of football and four weeks of the postseason. Another possibility would be to add to the football facility at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, which currently has 710 rooms.
More rooms would have to be built, and built quickly. More fields would have to be built, and built quickly. Still, if/when the NFL decides that a normal season is an impossibility, this is the kind of approach that could preserve the TV money — and potentially add to it, if college football can’t be played and if the NFL takes over each and every weekend from the weekend after Labor Day through the Super Bowl.
Would it be better if games can be played in the existing stadiums? Sure. Would it be even better if there’s a way to play the games with fans present? Absolutely. Until that becomes a probability/certainty, the NFL needs to be thinking about other alternatives for getting the games played — and for getting them televised.