For all the pessimism we've had regarding... well, everything the last however many months, the light at the end of the tunnel for this sports fan and many others was that the NFL and sweet, precious football, would be back on schedule.
The other leagues had more of an uphill climb. Baseball had to figure out how to squeeze a season in (and then some, as it turned out), while the NHL and NBA were in a race against the calendar to conclude their campaigns.
The NFL, though? It was months and months away. The world would be safer and they'd figure it out.
We're idiots for thinking that way, the lot of us.
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As we sit in late June — more than halfway between country-wide shutdowns and the start of the NFL season — coaches, players and fans seem to be asking the same question about the 2020 season: How, exactly, are we going to do this?
It's not to say the season isn't happening. The league itself still sounds optimistic, but how did we not see the current state of affairs coming? There isn't a vaccine. Some cities are still in their first wave, while others are seeing anticipated spikes as they hit various phases of their reopening plans. If people get together, they're increasing their chances of getting it and spreading it.
Plus, it was naive to think these guys would be keeping themselves in bubble wrap (i.e. not going to parties).
So for the perhaps under-asked question of "what happens when a few guys on a team get it?" we're getting our answer. The Buccaneers, one of only two teams to offer Tom Brady a contract in free agency, confirmed that they've had multiple positive tests. It's unclear whether they came as a result of team facilities reopening, but you can add those guys to the list of players throughout the league who have tested positive.
Over the weekend, the NFLPA recommended players stop getting together to practice. While there's probably a "who cares if we get it?" portion of the league, multiple coaches have raised questions about the logistics. Speaking on their podcast over the weekend, the McCourty twins sounded equally unsure.
Jason noted that if a small group of players getting together could see a positive test (à la the 49ers), what happens when it's a big group of players? He added that a bubble couldn't possibly work when you consider the size of rosters and staffs. Devin said he couldn't envision himself leaving his family for that long.
Which is to confront this ugly truth: For all the optimism we've had — and for how desperate we are to see a season — we still don't know how it's going to happen.
And what's scarier than the question of "how" is the reality of "what." Without a bubble, players are going to keep getting it, and then we're going to be asking questions about large groups of players on teams getting it. Do you start the season when you [probably] see the thing spreading? Does Team X not play Week Y because they've got it? How does that affect the competitive balance?
These are extremely obvious questions a lot of us probably haven't been asking for months. It's an "ignorance is bliss" thing. Everything was so far away that it wasn't worth the stress. Plus, we didn't know what was going to happen.
And we still don't, but I'll tell you this: This wasn't the late June football fans were counting on. It doesn't look lost, but it doesn't look good, and that's the last conversation any of us wanted to have.