On Tuesday morning, with three weeks and 48 games of the 2020 NFL regular-season in the books, it looked like the NFL had cracked the COVID code. By Tuesday night, everything changed.
From the the outbreak of the virus in Tennessee to the images of maskless stupidity in Las Vegas, what had seemed to be a sure thing quickly became tenuous and uncertain. The constant drip of stray positives pushed the Steelers-Titans game to Week Seven, a quick fix that won’t be quite as easy once bye weeks have come and gone.
The options for making up games will become limited after teams have their byes, with the addition of an extra week or two of the regular season perhaps being the only way to salvage games that get scrapped by new outbreaks — or if the situation in Nashville ultimately postpones the Bills-Titans game that is due to start eight days from now.
Rather than planning for the next inevitable outbreak, the NFL’s best approach could be to take all steps necessary to keep an outbreak from being inevitable. The NHL and NBA pulled it off with hardened, league-wide bubbles. The ship has long since sailed on the NFL taking all teams to one location; however, there’s still time to be preemptive and proactive and to minimize the possibility of losing more games.
The fix is simple: Put all teams in hotels. Do it now. Seal off all players, coaches, and essential personnel from the outside world. Hotel, practice facility, stadium, airport. That’s the universe of movement for the next three months, up to four for the teams that make it to the Super Bowl.
The NFL can’t do it without the agreement of the NFL Players Association, and the NFLPA likely would want something more for the players in order to get them to step aside from their lives for the balance of the regular season, and (for 14 teams) beyond. Then again, maybe the concession comes from enhancing the ability to avoid losing games, and the game checks that go along with it.
The union already has agreed to a pay-for-play model. The players get paid for the games that are played. If any games are scrapped, the players don’t get paid. That alone should be enough incentive to stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, and every night until the season end.
The postponement of the Steelers-Titans game shows that games can, and quite possibly will, be lost to the pandemic, unless things change. The best way to change things comes from a measure that may seem extreme on the surface but that becomes the safest bet (short of a hockey/basketball full-league bubble) to get the games played and to get the players paid.
The sooner the league and the union realize this, the sooner steps can be taken to avoid losing games for good, and the greater the likelihood that all 256 games will be played.