Earlier this week, the Commissioner informed teams that outbreaks caused by team failure to follow COVID-19 protocols could result in a game being forfeited. With the Titans, who apparently have committed multiple protocol breaches, potentially forced to miss a second straight game, a forfeit could be an option.
Judy Battista of NFL Media reports that, as of Wednesday afternoon, a forfeit hadn’t been discussed. Now that the Titans have yet another player who has generated a positive COVID-19 result only three days before kickoff, that could change.
A forfeit would raise plenty of questions. Would CBS be entitled to a partial refund, since it didn’t get to televise one of the games that it has paid to broadcast? More importantly, would the Bills and/or the Titans players be paid?
Some have suggested that the players already have agreed to not be paid for games not played. The language of the August 3 letter agreement, however, mentions only games that are “cancelled or suspended” and that aren’t played later in the year. The NFL Players Association could, and should, argue that the players have not agreed to surrender game checks in the event of a forfeit.
Indeed, the official rulebook contemplates the possibility of a forfeit, providing in Rule 11, Section 1, Article 1 that the final score of a forfeited game will be 2-0. In a normal year, no one ever would suggest that players shouldn’t be paid for a forfeited game. So why would they not be paid for a forfeit in 2020, especially when the agreement allowing the league to withhold pay for games “cancelled or suspended” does not expressly include forfeits, which necessarily are different from a cancellation or suspension, because a forfeited game goes into the standings with a winner and a loser?
The possibility that the Bills and Titans will owe game checks to players becomes a very good a reason to not declare a forfeit. And if it comes to that, the financial punishment imposed on the Titans should include making their own payroll for the week, along with Buffalo’s.
Absent a forfeit, the league has a mess on its hands. Since the Titans had an unscheduled bye in Week Four, there’s no open week for Tennessee to play the game later in the year. Moving the game to Monday isn’t an option, since the Bills play the Chiefs next Thursday night.