There’s no doubt about it.
During this new age of coronavirus, we are seeing a changing landscape in the world of sports.
Just in the past few weeks, the headlines have been discouraging.
The NBA is attempting to re-start their season by bubbling in place in Orlando.
However, Florida has become a virus hotspot and league players are beginning to jump ship rather than risk contracting the disease.
Major League Baseball has gone back and forth since May about their own restart.
They finally decided on a 60 game season to begin in late July.
Echoing their NBA brethren, various MLB stars are also hesitant to play with the virus raging.
In addition to these setbacks, Major League Soccer teams have pulled out of competition, Korean Baseball plays their games in front of empty seats, and the Ivy League recently suspended athletic contests for the upcoming year.
Now a lifelong fan of Korean baseball pic.twitter.com/E8SLn9HJzs
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) June 3, 2020
Also making recent headlines, the NFL currently plans to begin their season on time and play a full slate of games.
Yet, just in the past few days, the league announced they were cutting 2020 preseason games from four to two.
It is safe to assume that, as the number of those infected by the virus has risen in almost every state, the NFL will have to take a long, honest look at their 2020 season.
With CDC guidelines in place to help shepherd people, businesses, and organizations, the NFL can’t reasonably expect to play their entire season and not be affected by the coronavirus.
However, they can do their best to come up with a game plan that could (at least modestly) appease their teams, players, fans, and medical professionals.
Using current league ideas and various league rules, the author has put together a modest proposal for the NFL.
There is no doubt others have (or will) come up with their own ideas for how to carry out the 2020 NFL season.
This proposal serves as only one of a number of inevitable discussions ahead.
Current CDC Guidelines and the Game of Football don’t Mix
Of the many recommendations listed by the CDC, the organization asks us to limit close contact with persons outside our immediate family.
When going out, we should cover our mouth and nose with a cloth to help prevent the spread of germs.
Well, unless the game of football changes dramatically, and we see virtual tackle or flag football this season, this guideline has no chance for the upcoming season.
At the very least, think of the number of times during a game that the offensive and defensive linemen square off.
No amount of masks, face shields, or even sneeze guards, will protect football players from spreading germs to one another during a game.
BREAKING NEWS: 30 tiger players test positive for corona virus and will now be in quarantine.
How will this effect the season?
Will college football come back in the fall?
Stay tuned for updates pic.twitter.com/3CgYv54AWP
— lsusports_update (@LsusportsU) July 8, 2020
Also of note from the CDC, people infected by the virus should quarantine for a minimum of two weeks.
The NFL season is (currently) 16 games with a one-week bye.
Any NFL player contracting the virus during the season, and quarantining as the CDC recommends, misses a large portion of the season.
If the number of infected players on a team is significant, the postseason chances for that team drop proportionally.
Looking at the very basic guidelines from the CDC, we should also be washing our hands regularly and consistently cleaning and disinfecting.
Once again, harken back to the days of yore (like 2019) and what an NFL sideline looks like during a game.
Blood, sweat, tears, spit, puke, dirt, and all manner of filth are the bi-products of the game of football.
Honestly, even with the best of intentions, this author doesn’t see hand washing stations being temporarily erected on sidelines for the fall.
It’s also hard to imagine a grizzled coach yelling at his players every 15 minutes to, “Go wash your hands, and make sure you use hot soap and water for 20 seconds!”
Finally, one should also be wary of travel when considering the virus.
The CDC, for the most part, has similar restrictions for travel as they do for regular daily tasks.
Social distance, wear face coverings, be careful of frequently touched surfaces.
In a crowded space such as a plane, it is easy to see how a person could come in contact with the virus, especially due to the close quarters.
So, given these restrictions and realities, how does the NFL conduct business as usual during the upcoming season?
Short answer, they don’t.
Honestly, it’s not so hard to believe given recent trends that the league shuts down completely for 2020.
However, we diehard football fans don’t want to see that.
We’d like to see some semblance of our favorite game even if to temporarily take our minds off the “new normal.” How about a workaround to make (most) people happy?
Reduce the Number of Games As Well As Travel
The NFL currently consists of 32 teams, each in their own division with four teams in each division.
Normally, a team has eight home games and eight away games (except for those selected to play in London or Mexico City).
Travel is extensive during the season with teams packed in planes and airport shuttles for long periods of time.
Each season, various teams spend hours on cross country flights to and from games.
This current model doesn’t work well with the coronavirus.
During this Covid-19 crisis, you have to be more careful and aware about air passenger rights to save yourself.
— refundme.in (@refundme_in) July 9, 2020
The suggestion is this: Limit air travel and virus exposure by only playing six games during the regular season.
Why only six, you ask?
First, it’s better than nothing.
But, second, the reason is simple.
Since each franchise in the NFL plays in a four team division, each team plays their division rivals twice during the season.
For example, the Browns play the Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens two times each.
One game against each team is at home, the other away.
Also, teams play games every two-three weeks.
Stagger the divisions that play each week so that at least some football is played every weekend.
Therefore, the league year can begin in September and end sometime in December.
Why would the league use such a model?
One, it limits the exposure players have with opponents.
Instead of 16 opponents with various health maladies, each team only faces six.
Second, with the staggered structure, teams have at least the CDC suggested 14 days to quarantine infected players.
Third, air travel is reduced to only regional flights, eliminating the long, soul sucking cross country journeys.
Yes, teams can still be exposed during regional flights.
However, could a team purchase, rent, or lease their own plane and do their best to seat players strategically?
This wouldn’t be a problem for the franchises that already have their own team plane.
Fourth, only three home games spread over the course of a month or so gives stadium operations and cleaning personnel more than enough time to disinfect each site.
By the time teams return, their facilities have been scrubbed to within an inch of its life.
Increase Each Team’s Practice Squad Size
The author can’t take credit for this idea.
The league has already made an announcement that they are toying with the notion.
However, the idea plays in perfectly with the proposed season model.
In a recent article, the league has stated that they intend to limit the number of players for their training camp rosters.
Instead of the usual 90, the league has recommended only 75-80 players in camp.
The NFL has also proposed increasing practice squad sizes to 16-20 players.
Per @MikeGarafolo, the NFL is discussing an expansion of practice squads for the 2020 season, bring the max numbers of players to 16 for each team.
— Michael Peterson (@ZoneTracks) June 18, 2020
This is also a good idea.
Going back to the author’s proposal, the increase in practice squad numbers helps teams fill in roster holes made by players who are still in quarantine.
Sure, the practice squad player isn’t the same as a starter.
However, it is a temporary solution until the starter returns.
What About Playoffs and Who Gets into the Postseason?
Okay, we still have to be smart here.
The usual playoff structure in the NFL consists of heavy travel and numerous weeks of games with almost no rest.
So, given that both the AFC and NFC have 16 teams, the author proposes this:
One, only the first place team in each division makes the playoffs.
Two, in case of a tie, the league can use rules already in place for such a thing or simply compare both teams by using points scored against (defense) or points scored for (offense).
Three, the four teams are seeded 1-4 based on season record (and possible tie breakers) with one playing four and two playing three.
Seeds one and two are the home teams.
The winners of those two games play each other two weeks later (CDC quarantine recommendation) for the AFC and NFC title games.
The highest seed is still the home team.
Four, the winners of the title games play each other two weeks later (CDC again) for the Super Bowl.
This proposal limits the number of games and travel, thereby limiting virus exposure.
Two weeks are factored in after each round for quarantine restrictions.
The league could also, again, think about roster limits for the postseason and increase as necessary.
What about teams left out in this scenario that would have made the playoffs during a normal year? Well, that’s the breaks.
There’s no crying in football (or baseball).
Play well during the regular season and you have a great chance at the postseason.
Nothing changes there.
How Are Players Getting Paid?
We’ve already seen this idea play out with MLB.
Due to their significantly reduced 2020 season, baseball owners and their players union spent weeks going back and forth with proposals to compromise a restructuring of salaries.
Since NFL owners will no doubt lose money because of the author’s proposal, the NFL players union should expect to be approached for similar restructuring.
In fact, players have already received the first shot across the bow.
Both sides could huddle (pun intended) with their brethren in the MLB to get ideas on how to reach their own compromise.
At the very least, NFL owners and players can agree to make a temporary salary reduction for this year only.
Then, they cross all their fingers and toes that the virus is eradicated by 2021.
What About the Fans?
The @NFL will schedule all of its games for the 2020 season in the U.S. to ensure that they are played under consistent protocols that focus on the well-being of players, personnel and fans. https://t.co/xFx6AZ2HM8 pic.twitter.com/AzXG6zwGo7
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) May 4, 2020
Once again, the league has already started discussions related to this issue.
In late June, the NFL sent word to each team to tarp off the first 6-8 rows of seats for each stadium.
This limits the amount of virus exposure between fans and players and vice versa.
Starting with this idea, the NFL could look to organizations around the world to solve their remaining seating issues.
There are enough examples now of leagues throughout the planet that have been creative with their game seating.
It should be surprising to no one that regular seating in an NFL stadium is a CDC nightmare.
Fans are practically on top of each other during a game.
Then, there are the lines for restrooms and concessions.
In other words, infection city.
However, each team could play around with their capacity size during the abbreviated season.
Maybe they reduce capacity by a certain percentage.
Or, certain sections are cordoned off one game and opened the next game.
Each team could just fill their stadium and hope for the best (probably not a good idea).
There’s also a possibility that teams go the Korean Baseball route and games are played in empty stadiums.
Perhaps the NFL charges a certain dollar amount for games not televised for free, akin to their “NFL Sunday Ticket” package.
Keeping in mind that a number of people are without work or on reduced salary, make the price reasonable so that as many customers as possible can watch.
That means that ALL games would be available to viewers, not just to those that have Dish Network. (The league could offer NFL Sunday Ticket to all cable subscribers.
However, there would probably be a significant amount of negotiations between the NFL and the various cable companies to make it happen).
There would already be serious haggling between the NFL and its broadcasting partners just to make this tv idea possible.
However, yours truly is sure they could make it work.
Customers could chose the game they want to watch and pay a fee to view a game they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to.
This idea can be used with or without fans in the stands.
That way, those that can’t attend games can still pay to see a game.
Also to consider, season ticket holders would get seriously hosed under the author’s proposal.
Teams could offer them refunds and/or reduced ticket prices for 2021 to compensate.
Each organization could use some sort of a lottery system to select fans for each game.
No matter what, people will not be happy.
However, as already mentioned, this is the “new normal.”
Everyone will have to compromise.
Wait, You didn’t Address Every Possible Issue!
Well, of course not.
The NFL is, without a doubt, facing a logistical nightmare.
All the nuances for a reduced and abbreviated season are best left in the hands of the professionals.
Just for starters, the author’s proposal would mean the NFL scraps their current 2020 schedule.
Many readers will stop right there and say, “No way this happens!”
However, consider the NBA, MLB, NHL, MLS and countless other pro leagues that were supposed to be playing now.
As a reminder of information already presented, the NBA has reduced their season to playing all games “in a bubble” in Orlando.
MLB is attempting to play a 60 game season (down from 162) and figuring out their updated schedule and venues.
The NHL plans to return in August with a 24 team race to the Stanley Cup.
The list goes on and on.
Hands down, the ultimate question should be, “Do we want NFL football this year?”
If so, everyone WILL have to make sacrifices.
Hopefully, a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus can be found soon so we can get back to business as usual in 2021.