When the schedule is released on Thursday night, the specific configuration of 256 regular-season games will be scoured for clues regarding contingency plans that the league surely has formulated, given the pandemic. Some will be obvious. Some may not be.
A sense has been percolating for weeks now that the league will schedule interconference games exclusively during the first four weeks of the season, allowing for the first month to be scrapped and a season of 12 games to determine postseason positioning based solely on games against other teams from the same conference. Whether that’s indeed the case will be known from the moment the sheet is removed from the 2020 schedule.
Other clues may be harder to spot. For example, will the schedule allow for the possibility of certain teams sharing stadiums? If, for example, games can’t be played in California (either in open stadiums or at all), would the three California teams be relocated for the year to places where fans may attend?
The Chargers could play in Phoenix, for example. The Rams could play in Las Vegas. The 49ers could go to Denver. For something like that to happen, the team that usually plays in that stadium and the team that temporarily would be playing in that stadium would need a schedule that doesn’t conflict. Those teams would need to have home games on different weeks or home games separated by one or more days on the same weekend.
The phenomenon could apply on the East Coast, too. What if New York and New Jersey decline to open stadiums or permit teams to play in closed stadiums? The Jets, Giants, and Bills could head to Florida, with their home games played in Tampa, Jacksonville, and Miami, not necessarily respectively.
The scheduling process already is complex enough without cross referencing schedules of teams in states that may not open stadiums with teams in states that may. Still, it will be interesting to see whether the schedule leaves the door open for the possibility of a home team in a state expected to be open later this year sharing space with a team from a state that could be closed.
The mere fact of leaving the door opening for doubling up will have another potential impact on the effort to get the games played. If the NFL has the option to relocate teams for 2020 from states that won’t let games proceed to states that will, the league will have real leverage in the inevitable discussions/negotiations with governors and other politicians regarding the effort to get all games played.