The Bears will not follow the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in creating a voluntary bubble, coach Matt Nagy said Wednesday, although it’s possible the team’s stance on one could change.
The idea of a “voluntary bubble” was first floated by the Saints, which have one set up during training camp. Players and staff can choose to sequester themselves in a hotel, only going to and from the team’s facility, allowing for something much closer to the true bubbles that’ve worked so well in the NBA, NHL, MLS and NWSL. Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said this week the team has a hotel set up where players/staff can stay during the season, too.
Because they’re voluntary, these team-sanctioned bubbles do not run afoul of the NFL-NFLPA’s agreement on the 2020 season. Although if one were set up, it's likely most (if not all) Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals would opt into it.
If the Bears wanted to set up a bubble, it wouldn’t seem to be difficult – there are plenty of hotels close to Halas Hall in Lake Forest (anyone up for an extended stay at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort?). But for now, the Bears remain confident in two pillars of their COVID-19 protocols: Their setup at Halas Hall, and their continued education of players, staff and their families about how to pull of a football season in the midst of a pandemic.
“I think for us, we feel really good right now with our quote-unquote ‘bubble’ that we have here,” Nagy said. “It feels very safe. There’s been a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get this set-up that we have. But also, we’re growing, too. I mean, if you came in here five days ago and looked at this complex at Halas Hall and the Water Payton Center, it’s totally different than five days ago. We keep adding to make it better.
“Ryan (Pace) and I joked, it’s like one of those whiffle balls that has all the holes in it everywhere. We keep finding holes and patching them up. That’s probably going to continue for the whole year.
“So if there’s something that players bring to us or that we feel we can keep ourselves safe in one way or another, we’re gonna do that.”
The Bears, like every other NFL team, may need to be flexible, especially as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise in Illinois. What sounds farfetched now may not be so crazy in a month.
But Nagy believes the Bears can avoid an outbreak inside Halas Hall by following strict mask-wearing guidelines, social distancing whenever possible and preaching the importance of responsible behavior away from the facility.
“It always comes back to when you’re outside of this bubble of Halas Hall, you need to be able to be smart and be selfless, not selfish,” Nagy said.
The Cubs can be viewed as a prime example of how to navigate a season without a bubble, having not had a member of their traveling party test positive for COVID-19 since returning to Wrigley Field in early July. It’s not impossible to pull this off so long as everyone buys in to an extreme level of personal responsibility – and, too, gets lucky in dodging such an infectious, insidious virus.
That kind of commitment (and luck) might just mean the Bears wouldn’t need to create a voluntary bubble somewhere in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
What also can help the Bears here too is their coach’s persistent messaging about and policing of mask-wearing inside Halas Hall, which hopefully will carry over into interactions away from the building.
“The mask deal is real,” Nagy said. “This is my opinion, and just from what we see and what we hear. You hear a lot of people say, 'Well, you've gotta treat it like everybody has (COVID-19).' In my opinion, you've gotta treat it like you have it, right?
“If you treat it like you have it, you wear your mask and the percentages of spreading it can be a lot lower. When you treat it like you have it, that means everybody has their mask on in this building and that's what you're seeing with a lot of the teams having low test rates with positive tests, and that's how we're going about it.”