Although you’d almost certainly not sense as much optimism from the players, owners, and teams, the NFL is undoubtedly in a better position post-COVID-19 than any other American professional sport. The 2020 Super Bowl happened about a month before the world was shut down, and since then the actual “changes” have been mostly superficial (virtual draft, no in-person meetings, closed facilities, etc.). Broadly speaking, their offseason schedule has remained wholly on track.
But that’s not to say they aren’t preparing for disruption.
According to Sports Business Daily, although the NFL is moving forward with their plans to hold a full regular season in 2020, there are a number of contingencies in place, should they need to adjust on the fly.
Among them …
• A Super Bowl on February 28th
• A regular season start date of October 15th
• A regular season with no bye weeks or Pro Bowl
Indeed, this is the first set of contingency plans the NFL has arranged – outside of general considerations for the schedule, to provide each division the best chance of playing all necessary games against each other.
Sports Business Daily has more: “When the schedule is released next month, it will look like a standard 16-game, 17-week slate, but it will be designed to allow for several steps that could become necessary depending on the state of the pandemic …. In one version, the start of the season could be delayed by up to five weeks with relatively few adjustments. Such a scenario would have Super Bowl LV, currently set for Feb. 7, 2021 in Tampa, pushed back by three weeks.”
How would they accomplish some of these changes? You can read the original article for greater detail, but in short, two weeks of early-season games could be shifted to the end of the year, byes could be eliminated, and the Pro Bowl could be cut entirely, among other considerations.
Understandably, sources have cautioned that no plans are final and that nothing has been ruled out. As we know, the rules, expectations, best practices, and longterm outlook of the pandemic changes with great frequency. Attempting to do anything more than maximizing flexibility is foolish. At the same time, that’s the beauty of having so much time to prepare (compared to some of the other major sports in this country). With these arrangements, the NFL can start their season as late as October 15th – typically Week 6 – and still play a full 16-game season that ends in February. That’s extremely good news and should make you much more optimistic that something close to a regular NFL season lies ahead of us in 2020.
In related news, the NFL has reportedly told network executives to expect a schedule release as early as May 7th, two days earlier than the league had originally planned, but some have concerns that any sort of schedule would unnecessarily fly in the face of local and national governments who are otherwise preaching caution with long-term plans. To combat any pushback, the NFL apparently plans to focus on their many contingencies, but, well, we know how quickly (and often unfairly) stories can get legs.
In any case, I see this as wholly good news. The NFL has some legitimate, flexible contingency plans in place for the 2020 season, which certainly seem to suggest that football will be in our lives – in a very familiar way – this fall.