The NFL and NFL Players Association are reaching the various agreements that need to be reached to allow the 2020 season to proceed on a piecemeal basis. Certain key agreements still need to be finalized.
The latest agreement relates to the Game Day protocol. PFT has obtained the 11-page document that sets forth in careful detail that various steps that will be taken to limit the spread of the virus in the locker room, on the sidelines, before games, and after games. As previously noted, jersey swaps can’t happen. As previously noted, players and coaches aren’t required to wear masks, but everyone else on the sideline is.
One key aspect of the 2020 game-day experience remains unresolved, however. Players and Tier 1/Tier 2 individuals (such as coaches) “will undergo screening and testing in accordance with the Screening and Testing Protocol.” That protocol, however, has not yet been finalized.
It becomes, obviously, a critical document. In May, some connected to the league believed that, by September, rapid-response testing would be readily and reliably available, allowing players, coaches, and anyone on the sidelines to be tested before they enter the stadium. Such testing has yet to be developed; the challenge for the NFL and the NFLPA will be to come up with a strategy that minimizes the chances of a player who has know symptoms but who has the virus from unknowingly shedding it during a game.
Without reliable and readily available rapid-response testing, it will be impossible to know with certainty whether players who have the virus will be entering a game, where all of the various efforts to limit the spread of the virus get turned on their head — and where players are breathing hard and sweating and spitting and bleeding.
The ability of the NFL to pull off the 2020 season hinges in many respects on the ability to keep players who have the virus away from the field of play. That’s the one area where normal protocols won’t work, and where the only safeguard will be ensuring that only players who recently tested negative will be in the fray.
Without the ability to obtain a reliable negative test on game day, every game will become a roll of the dice on a possible outbreak. Whether the NFL will be rolling the dice for up to 32 preseason games, for 256 regular-season games, and for 13 postseason games remains to be seen, based on the details of the to-be-finalized testing protocol.