The 2020 NFL season is scheduled to begin in just over two months, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it will begin on time, and what the league will look like throughout the fall, remains extremely unclear.
Success will rely largely on answering big, important safety questions in order to keep the league's players safe. According to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, one of the biggest questions remains... unanswered.
Smith chatted with USA Today's Mackenzie Salmon on Monday, and explained where the NFL and NFLPA stand in terms of reckoning with this unorthodox season:
If you wanted to create the perfect sport for the transmission of a virus, it would be football. So how do you deal with the fact that someone's going to test positive, that person is going to have had a tremendous amount of contact with other people on his team? And for the most part, everyone who tests positive will likely be asymptomatic.
So our thinking, it seems to me, has to be focused on, 'How do you test regularly?' And hopefully the saliva test will come online fairly soon, we will be able to test more frequently, there will be a faster turnaround time.
But in Week 4, if five people on one team test positive on a Wednesday, and five people test positive on another team on a Wednesday, and those two teams are supposed to play on Sunday - even engaging in what we'd want to do, a 48-hour or 72-hour time period of two negative tests, you're at a point where, okay, five to 10 people may not be able to play on Sunday. Then what?
Here's where we are right now: we haven't agreed on what happens.
It's good that both the league and the NFLPA are treating these kinds outbreaks as "when" situations, not "if" situations. Earlier this month, ESPN reported roughly 10 teams across the league reported at least one positive COVID-19 test - and that's before 3,072 active players participate in hand-to-hand activity for three straight hours on 17 consecutive weekends.
It's not good that both parties have yet to answer what seems to be the most fundamental question facing the 2020 NFL season: what to do in case of a mass outbreak?
That is basically the only question that matters right now.
Earlier this month, reports surfaced of possibly expanding teams' practice squads in order to bolster the number of players available in the event of a sizable outbreak.
The two sides have 45 days until the first scheduled preseason game to figure out a plan for sizable team outbreaks. It sounds like plenty of time, but we said that about negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA until those talks overran numerous deadlines.
The NFL season is scheduled to begin Sept. 10. We'll see if that's what actually happens.
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