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How the hell is the NFL (and others) going to have a season in 2020?

Or at least one that matters, anyway.

Roger Goodell and co. have a lot to figure out.
| Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We are now officially in the summer months. Which usually means we would be closing out the NBA Finals and the NHL Stanley Cup, a few weeks out from the MLB’s All-Star Game, and gearing up for football.

Obviously, that’s different these days due to the Coronavirus, but recently, we keep hearing of progress toward getting things back on track when it comes to sports.

The NCAA is currently doing all it can to start the football season in mid-July and is trying to extend the preseason. The NBA is going to finish the regular season and push through with a full postseason. The NHL has approved a start date for training camp and a playoff format. The Premier League is set to return on June 17. NFL teams, like the Buccaneers, have set a hopeful date for their own training camp and the NFL hasn’t wavered from its long-standing claim that the season will start on time. The MLB is the only league having issues when it comes to figuring out what to do, but that’s mostly an internal situation.

Everyone has a plan. The top officials and minds have sat down and “figured this out” as long as the pandemic stays the course we’ve been accustomed to over the last few weeks.

All of this is great news. Especially for those of us who crave sports.

But those of us who crave sports also know how they work. Just because something looks good on paper, doesn’t mean it automatically comes to fruition. It all depends on how you execute what you have on paper.

And frankly, I’m very curious as to how in the hell the sports world is going to pull this off.

Let’s start with the obvious scenario (and probably the only scenario you need to ponder in order to wonder yourself how this will work), which is what happens if and when a player contracts COVID-19? Said player will obviously have to be quarantined for 14 days, which means they will miss practice time, meetings, workouts, and the worst of all - games.

It will be two games in the NFL if you don’t have a bye week in-between, which can make the difference between playoffs and losing your job. Usually in baseball, hockey, or basketball it wouldn’t mean as much due to 162- and 82-game seasons in those respective sports, however, baseball is looking at a a 70- to 75-game schedule —which is a 54%-57% reduction in games— while the NHL will instantly be locked into the playoffs and basketball will play a handful of games before jumping into the playoffs themselves.

Every one of those games will matter.

A baseball player can miss up to 13 games in 14 days if he has to be quarantined.

Imagine missing two weeks of playoffs in basketball and hockey.

How will these seasons be remembered if let’s say, the Bucs get to the Super Bowl, but Tom Brady and Mike Evans test positive the day after the NFC Championship game? That means they would miss the Super Bowl, which would hurt their chances of winning, tremendously.

Let’s not act like this isn’t a possibility, either. Three more players on the Alabama Crimson Tide tested positive for COVID-19 a couple of days ago after a workout independent of the program. Last week, five others tested positive, bringing the total to eight players in a week. Three kids who play for the UCF Knights tested positive a few days ago after returning to voluntary workouts —that were held on campus— last week.

The game —and the product as a whole— is bound to suffer as a result of all of this madness. The thought of shuffling players in and out of a lineup while having limited access and time to prep has to scare the bejeezus out of coaches and that’s completely understandable.

This is something that could easily happen during the regular season. And that’s just the beginning of the proverbial slippery slope.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh recently voiced his concerns over the NFL’s plan. In fact, he said that it would be “humanly impossible” to coach his team under the league’s current COVID-19 guidelines.

The NFL’s protocol involves the CDC’s recommendation of social distancing, which is staying 6-feet apart at all times and wearing approved masks to help stop the spread of the virus. The 6-feet apart protocol is to include all areas of a NFL facility from the weight room down to the cafeteria.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Baltimore Ravens
Harbaugh has good points about the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.
Photo by Larry French/Getty Images

“I’ve seen all the memos on that, and to be quite honest with you, it’s impossible what they’re asking us to do. Humanly impossible,” Harbaugh said during an interview with Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan.

“So, we’re going to do everything we can do. We’re going to space, we’re going to have masks. But, you know, it’s a communication sport. We have to be able to communicate with each other in person. We have to practice.

I’m pretty sure the huddle is not going to be 6-feet spaced,” he continued. “Are guys going to shower one at a time all day? Are guys going to lift weights one at a time all day? These are things the league and the [players’ association] needs to get a handle on and needs to get agreed with some common sense so we can operate in a 13-hour day in training camp that they’re giving us and get our work done. That’s the one thing, you can tell by my voice, I’m a little frustrated with what I’m hearing there. And I think they need to get that pinned down a little better.”

You also have to wonder about how the disparity in what certain states are allowed to do will be handled, as well. For instance, Florida doesn’t have the strict laws/requirements that California has when it comes to certain COVID-19 policies. If certain teams are allowed to do more than others because of the state they reside in then it automatically creates an advantage.

Even though this doesn’t matter until further down the road, Texas has allowed its professional and collegiate sports stadiums to open at half capacity, while many states still have stadiums closed off to the public. But this is still worth the proactive discussion because what if a state (or states) hits a snag in its re-opening and its stadium is forced to remain closed during part of the season? Take Nashville, for example. The city I live in had to delay the beginning of Phase III because of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. If this were to happen during the regular season, it would give teams who can have fans in the stadium a major advantage at home and on the road against teams who can’t have fans in the stands.

It’s already a lot to take in and a lot to figure out, yet we haven’t even touched on the risk(s) of travel, how the media will be constructed on game days, what players will do while on the road (who goes out and who stays in, etc), and the idea of fans being allowed back into games.

And all of it centers around what happens in the outside world, which is totally beyond any league’s control.

Now of course, this is all conditional. If something happens between now and when these sports are supposed to start back, the leagues have made it clear that they will pull out. But sill, there’s a lot to figure out and there’s a lot of risk involved, here. The payoff will be the return of sports, but what will it cost?

Unfortunately, we won’t know until we have already found out.


Poll

How do you feel about the possibility of professional sports returning in 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Hell Yea!!
    (123 votes)
  • 15%
    I feel good about it.
    (72 votes)
  • 11%
    Not sure.
    (51 votes)
  • 25%
    I’m concerned.
    (115 votes)
  • 20%
    Table everything until 2021.
    (94 votes)
455 votes total Vote Now

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