The 2020 NFL schedule was released Thursday and it was written almost as if there are no concerns for COVID-19 problems. It’s a full schedule with fans in the stands.
But don’t get too excited about those early season games. They are very likely to be casualties of the virus.
And remember, of all the major professional sports leagues, the NFL could prove to be the most challenged to find a way to play in this environment.
A closer look at the schedule reveals that there is a plan to shorten the season, if necessary. Weeks three and four of the schedule feature no divisional games. They would apparently be the first games canceled. Then weeks one and four could be shoehorned into bye weeks later in the season.
That could allow for a 14-game season with a month’s delay. And it could be played with the Super Bowl pushed back just one week. I would assume the league would then, if it must, continue to push the schedule and Super Bowl back a week or two at a time until able to play.
I would also assume there are many more contingency plans that have not yet been revealed. There have to be -- because what was released Thursday just doesn’t seem possible.
The league took the approach of scheduling its season in very much a normal fashion, but a statement from Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear his league will attempt to adjust as needed:
"We are prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this offseason in safely and efficiently conducting key activities such as free agency, the virtual offseason program, and the 2020 NFL draft."
If virus concerns continue through the summer, which appears more than likely, the NFL faces more logistical problems than the other pro leagues, simply because of the number of participants in its games.
First of all, this game features a tremendous amount of physical contact between participants, meaning the virus could spread quickly through a team or even an entire league.
You can reasonably talk about being able to quarantine a 15-player NBA roster, but NFL rosters feature 55 players, along with a 12-player practice squad. In addition, NFL teams have a multitude of coaches and support personnel.
While NBA and Major League Baseball are considering scenarios featuring putting their entire leagues in a "bubble" to keep them safe, possibly playing out a season in one location without fans, the NFL would seemingly have an impossible task of trying to do the same thing.
And it’s also questionable that even traveling to all NFL cities by September will be possible.
States are opening up at different times. It’s likely that a team in Florida or Georgia could begin practice sooner than the one in Washington, for example. Would the league allow that or would all teams have to begin at the same time? Could all the teams be ready to play in time for the season to start as scheduled?
The NFL schedule reflects a great degree of optimism and the league is going to have to be very nimble in order to make it work in some fashion.
But that’s a league not necessarily known for its flexibility. I would say this is not a schedule, it’s a wish.