Last week, Commissioner Roger Goodell refused to acknowledge, twice, the obvious competitive inequities resulting from some teams having fans present and other teams not having fans present. Goodell nevertheless will admit that the 2020 season will be far from perfect.
Asked by Peter King of Football Morning in America on Friday afternoon whether Goodell believes that the NFL may play a season with not every team playing 16 games, here’s what Goodell said: “I don’t know. We’re prepared if we have to do that. We’ve obviously gone through work on that basis with teams. There will be potential competitive inequities that will be required this season because of the virus and because of the circumstances that we wouldn’t do in other years. That’s going to be a reality of 2020. If we feel like we have an outbreak, that’s going to be driven by medical decisions — not competitive decisions.”
That last part inadvertently gives credence to those who asked why the Commissioner’s outside advisory council consists only of former football people and not of any doctors, a common source of confusion and criticism when news of the formation of the outside advisory council first emerged. If medical decisions not competitive decisions will drive the reaction to an outbreak, what’s the point of having an advisory committee for competitive decisions?
If/when there are competitive decisions to be made, here’s hoping that teams are held accountable for their own roster decisions and their own ability (or lack thereof) to avoid an outbreak. Football is and always has been the ultimate next man up sport. Teams should be expected to proceed regardless of whether they lack enough healthy offensive linemen (injuries have forced teams to use tight ends in the past) or enough healthy cornerbacks (teams have used receivers to play defensive back) or enough healthy quarterbacks (teams have used high-school or college quarterbacks who play other positions in the NFL).
So, yes, it’s one thing to declare an outbreak that for medical reasons makes it unsafe for teams to travel to the site of a game and take the field against each other. It’s quite another for a team to be depleted at one or more positions but otherwise in possession of enough players to put 11 men on the field for offense, defense, and special teams. In the case, and in the absence of an active outbreak, teams should be expected to play.