Today's news about the outbreak of coronavirus within the Marlins' locker room was, more than likely, inevitable. The timing of it – exactly three games into the season – isn't exactly subtle, and impending test results from the Phillies and Yankees will go a long way in proving whether this was just cruel timing or something much worse. Either way, today's news has the NFL's full attention – and rightly so:
At a time when optimism is building for the NFL playing a full season, the Miami Marlins are dealing with an outbreak that has stopped their season in its tracks, after only three games https://t.co/ngV7HOEQ8n— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 27, 2020
Very curious to see how this is handled https://t.co/iE323Qvh3K— Allen Robinson II (@AllenRobinson) July 27, 2020
You'll excuse the pessimism (right? sorry) if I point out that right now, things look bleak. As things stand, MLB and the NFL are the only two major American sports leagues that are operating without a bubble, and the results speak for themselves. The NWSL just completed a month-long tournament in Utah without a positive COVID test. The NHL finished its third phase of training camp and all 4,256 tests in the last round came back negative. Since Dallas and Nashville dropped out of the MLS Is Back tournament, the bubble has worked. The MLB had a locker room outbreak three days in. If that's not the whole story, it's certainly a lot of it.
The NFL has released a set of safety protocols and regulations they feel confident about, though there's still very little to no evidence (in America, an objectively important distinction to make on the topic) that non-bubble systems are successful right now. In that way, the Marlins' outbreak represents the second time during this coronavirus pandemic that the NFL's been gifted time. Teams will be able to see the consequences of deciding to play with known positives – not only on the field and from the league office, but in the public eye. (hint: not good!) Roger Goodell will be able to watch how Rob Manfred wields the quite-large amount of unilateral power he has in times of real crisis.
Baseball has to make unprecedented decisions on the fly, again, while the NFL continues to be given a blueprint as they gear up for their own season. Goodell and the rest of the league all but squandered the much larger window they had to work with; padded practices are scheduled to begin exactly three weeks from today. What the NFL learns from today, and the next few days, will dictate how realistic that actually is.