Home-field advantage is massive in the NFL, especially when the playoff hunt heats up in late November.
Seattle, New Orleans, Kansas City and Denver all are known for their raucous crowds that make life hell on opposing teams. But there's a possibility the 49ers and Raiders won't have to face such daunting road games during the 2020 season.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has paused the sports world. While the NFL is planning on having a 2020 season, the league reportedly is looking at all contingency plans which include playing games with half-filled stadiums or no fans at all, Mark Maske and Dave Sheinin reported Wednesday, citing league sources.
Imagine, George Kittle and Jimmy Garoppolo walking into CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks, and you can hear a pin drop. Or Derek Carr getting his first win at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City with no one there to see.
The NFL doesn't know exactly how things will pan out. No one does. The sports leagues are looking for a way to play, and have to be open to everything.
"I don’t know if it’ll be a one-third-filled stadium, a half-filled stadium or whatever,” an anonymous source with knowledge of the league's planning told The Washington Post. “The NFL is planning for everything from playing without fans to playing in full stadiums. We know there will be a push from the [federal] government to open things up.”
This report comes on the heels of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House's coronavirus task force, saying sports could re-open but with heavy restrictions.
“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci told Snapchat. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [players and other personnel] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled [and] have them tested like every week, and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out. … If you could get on television, Major League Baseball, to start July 4 [even if] nobody comes to the stadium -- you just, you do it.”
The NFL has forged ahead despite the pandemic. Free agency went off as planned and the 2020 NFL Draft starts April 23, although it will be held virtually with commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks from his basement. The NFL had stated it planned to have the season begin on time and with fans in the stands.
That, however, isn't the league's or even federal government's call. It will be up to public health experts to determine when mass gatherings can resume.
Dr. Jeffrey Smith, a chief executive for Santa Clara County, told ESPN that the NFL starting on time would take a "minor miracle."
"It puts the entire country at risk," Smith said. "The fundamental thing is sports is not a local event. If you have people traveling from all over and you have no way of knowing whether they're infected or not -- I mean, 50,000 of them in a stadium is not a good idea."
Smith recently said he didn't expect sporting events to return before Thanksgiving, and California governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday it's "unlikely" sports return with fans in attendance this summer.
The NFL will do whatever it can to have a season, but it's looking more and more like fans won't be in attendance.
Playing in normally hostile arenas without fans could benefit the 49ers in their quest to win a second NFC West crown or the Raiders as they try to make it back to the playoffs for just the second time since 2002. The idea has been called "refreshing" by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Kittle has said he wouldn't mind going into Seattle or New Orleans without fans.
Everyone wants sports back, but they only can return when it is safe and doctors, scientists and public health officials give the OK. Whatever guidelines they deem necessary should be followed and we'll all celebrate the return of sports in whatever manner they come.