The NFL kicked off Sept. 10, but one only needs to look at the League’s plan to conduct a season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to realize the NFL may be forced to halt the season well before crowning a Super Bowl champion.
Whereas professional American sports leagues such as the NBA, WNBA and MLS have adopted bubbles of some kind, which have been successful in allowing games to be played while mitigating the spread of coronavirus amongst the athletes, the NFL has opted for no such bubble. Teams will still travel to different cities to play games, players and team personnel will be tested regularly at team facilities, and each individual franchise’s home city or state can decide whether or not to allow fans into its stadium.
Unfortunately for football fans, the guidelines for this season, agreed upon by players and owners, do not seem to take into account outside realities.
Coronavirus is still infecting Americans across the country. As of Sept. 3, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases nationwide was 41,790.
Participating NFL franchises are located in 22 states. Of those states, daily infections are decreasing in seven, stable in 12 and increasing in three, according to The New York Times’ Covid case count.
Ten franchises, however, are located in the top ten states of COVID-19 cases per capita, according to the aforementioned article: evidently, coronavirus is present in the NFL’s markets, and its lack of a bubble means players could more easily become infected.
Lessons from MLB do not help the NFL’s case either. MLB began its season July 23 under virtually the same conditions the NFL has laid out. Since then, two teams, the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, have experienced outbreaks that put each of their seasons on hold for weeks. The Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets and Oakland A’s identified cases among their organizations, which has forced the postponement of a combined 38 games, the most recent being a Sept. 3 competition between the A’s and Seattle Mariners.
Clearly, MLB continues to have difficulties stopping outbreaks among its players and mitigating the spread of the virus, despite hopes of finishing its playoffs by Oct. 31.
If the NFL hopes to learn from MLB’s troubles under similar circumstances, it must first recognize two major differences between the sports. First, the 53-player NFL roster is double the size of the 28-player MLB roster, meaning NFL teams have to monitor double the amount of players. Second, baseball is not a contact sport, whereas football most definitely is, thereby increasing the possibility of the virus spreading between teammates and opposing players.
Timing works against the NFL’s plans as well. The beginning of the season coincides with back-to-school season, increasing the possibility of community outbreaks. Moreover, the playoffs correspond with the winter and the height of flu season, which has the risk of increasing death rates for those afflicted with both the flu and COVID-19. Both of these matters of timing could increase NFL players’ risk of being infected and developing life-threatening symptoms.
League executives, franchise owners and players are banking on the belief that everyone involved in the NFL season will adhere to the protocols that have been set in place to mitigate the spread of the virus and to ensure the season will take place. Nonetheless, 66 players chose to opt out of competing in the 2020 season, illustrating the skepticism some players harbor about the viability of the League’s guidelines.
On Sept. 4, when asked on ESPN’s “First Take” whether he believed the NFL would be able to complete its season, host Stephen A. Smith confidently proclaimed, “You can book it.”
Despite his adamant declaration, all practical signs do not beg the question of if the season will shut down, but when.
Christian Baldari is a freshman in the College. Bringing the Heat appears online every other week.