The 49ers were forced into something of a local bubble in Arizona after Santa Clara County tightened COVID-19 protocols that included a ban on contact sports. But the NFL has resisted local bubbles for teams this season and still has managed to get through 13 weeks (after tonight’s game).
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell all but ruled out a one-site postseason bubble for the NFL but left the door open on local bubbles for playoff teams. The union would have to be onboard with any sort of a mandatory bubble.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said no decisions have been made about the postseason.
“We’ve talked to our players about it on the board call. We’ve certainly had conversations about it at the executive committee level,” Smith said on a Tuesday conference call. “There’s been no decision about what to do. The thing I would add there is everything we’re going to do is going to be data-driven. We’re still looking at an incidence rate that’s extremely low. We’re looking at a positivity rate that’s extremely low. That last factor of the amount of virus that’s in a local jurisdiction is the other piece that we’re going to have to pay close attention to. We’ll make the best decision at the time based on all the data.”
The NBA, NHL and MLB all implemented bubbles successfully. Baseball went to a bubble for the postseason.
The NFL, though, will rely on analyzing a “wide-range of factors in a far more nuanced way than simply looking at what worked in the NBA and what worked in the MLB.”
“We always look at contingency plans,” Smith said. “I think the only reason that we have been so successful this year is we’ve put a lot of work in at the beginning of the season but also have realized that we’re going to have to be flexible about changing the protocols and changing our behaviors, and we’ve seen that during the season. As we get closer to the playoffs, we’ll keep an eye on unfortunately what is the rising rates in many of our communities. . . . At the end of the day, you try to come up with a way to keep our players and to continue engaging in our business. We have looked at contingencies and will continue to do so.”
NFLPA president JC Tretter, though, doesn’t seem keen on the idea of having players away from their families at a hotel. His team is on track for a postseason berth.
“On top of that, I think we always have to include the human aspect of it,” said Tretter, the center for the Browns. “Our players have wives and kids at home that they want to see. It’s been a tough year from a mental health perspective for our players — the feeling of isolation, of not being able to see people, to see their friends, to see their family. To further ask guys to stay away from their young children and their families for potentially six weeks, that’s a big ask and that has ramifications outside of the game of football.”