In a roundabout way, Dr. Anthony Fauci has legitimized the idea floated here a couple of weeks ago that the NFL could play its season by taking all teams to a remote location, conducting the games in empty stadiums or practice facilities, quarantining the players, and basically keeping everyone there for the duration of the season.
“Nobody comes to the stadium,” Dr. Fauci said. “Put them in big hotels, wherever you want to play . . . have them tested every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family and just let them play the season out.”
That’s a very encouraging explanation from Fauci, but like so many other things related to this pandemic, every answer leads to more questions. And here’s the biggest question associated with the prospect of quarantining players by putting them in “big hotels”: What if they don’t want to do that?
Any dramatic change to working conditions will trigger for the NFL a duty to bargain with the NFL Players Association, which may not be willing or able to enter into a blanket commitment to making its constituents a captive workforce, with the season becoming, essentially, a four-month road trip. The end result could be that players will have the right to decide, one by one, whether they want to play — with the understanding that, if they choose not to play, they won’t receive their base salaries.
And maybe that should be the extent of the financial loss; fines or bonus forfeitures arguably shouldn’t apply in this situation. Every player should have the ability to make a decision as to whether he’s comfortable leaving his family and staying in a hotel for the duration of the season — unless his family is able and willing to join him.
It’s way too early to know how that would unfold, if players have the ability to tap out of a season played under team quarantine. Would Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson give up his $18 million base salary and the ability to play football this season? Would Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose base salary is only $1.55 million this year, pass on playing? (The fact that Rodgers would be potentially losing on $1.55 million suggests that the downside of not playing perhaps should be something other than base salary only, since Rodgers is making $32 million per year on average.)
Regardless, the Bio-Dome approach may sound good in theory, but it won’t be the easiest concept to sell to the individual players who either will be away from their families — or who will be sequestered in a hotel with their families — for the full football season.