Not long ago, the feasibility of a 17-game season was a topic of hot debate. Now, the question is whether a 16-game season is possible this year, given the coronavirus pandemic.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank, with all appropriate qualifiers, predicts that a 16-game season will be played in 2020.
“If I had to speculate now, and I use the word speculate because that’s really all it is, I would say yes,” Blank tells Peter King of Football Morning in America. “Only because it’s so far away from where we are today. I could easily see camps being shorter, players being tested on a daily basis, things of that nature. No fan attendance. Things like that. We may have fewer preseason games, which probably wouldn’t be the end of the world. But I think by September, my hope is by the time the regular season starts, that we’ll be able to bring people together in some form or fashion in a safe manner and play.”
There’s a lot to unpack in that quote. So let’s give it a try.
Shorter camps/preseasons: With no offseason programs and shortened training camps and preseasons, plenty of players may simply not be physically ready for football season. Some veteran players could be in greater danger of being cut than usual, especially given their salaries. Across the board, play could be sloppier than usual in the early stages of the season.
Players tested on a daily basis: This will require dramatic improvements in testing ease and efficiency. It also will lead to important questions about the fates of those who test positive. Will they be barred from the team? Will they count on the roster? Likewise, it won’t just be players who get tested regularly but coaches, trainers, and anyone who comes in contact with the players or the locker room. Once the virus starts to go through a team, it will spread like wildfire — and it could keep some teams from fielding a competitive lineup.
No fan attendance: It’s amazing how something that four weeks ago would have been inconceivable has become so commonly accepted. Given competitive concerns, however, if only one NFL team can’t play with fans present due to the extent of the outbreak in its home city, an argument can be made that no teams should be allowed to play with fans. Thus, it could become an all-or-nothing proposition, which given the current state of the situation suggests that nothing is more likely than all.
However it looks and wherever the games are played, the NFL will surely do everything it can to avoid pulling the plug on the season — especially if that means: (1) no revenue; and (2) an ongoing obligation to pay players. That’s why the league should be thinking of every possible scenario and planning for it, up to and including the extreme and impractical possibility of establishing and maintaining an oversized campus for all teams and critical personnel away from society.
“I do think we need football now,” Blank told King. “It’s hard to turn on any device you have today, almost any site, television, PCs, laptops, phones, without the first thing popping up being something on the virus. And that’s appropriate. However, I also think that people want a diversion. People want to be optimistic. People want to think about things that are really good times for themselves and their families and their loved ones and their communities. I think to have that kind of hope and aspiration mixed into your daily life is important.”
He’s absolutely right. Yes, team owners want football season so that they can make money. But they make so much money because football has become such an important part of the fabric of our shared American experience. They need football to be played, and we all need football to be played.
So, yes, they need to find a way for pro football to happen this year. Which means that they need to be making every possible plan for every possible scenario now, so that when more clarity arrives later this year, the powers-that-be will be able to come up with a viable strategy for getting games played.