With the 2020 NFL season set to kick off in less than two weeks, one of the more intriguing storylines highlighting the pandemic-riddled season will be if -- and how many -- fans are allowed in the stands.
The NFL made it clear earlier this summer that it will be each individual team's choice on how many fans are allowed to attend. Without a uniform policy across the league, several people have raised concerns about there being a competitive advantage to those teams with fans in the stands.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is not one of those people who thinks there will be an advantage.
"We may be having a lot of teams that will start with no fans in the beginning of the season and they evolve to fans," Goodell said Tuesday on a conference call with media, via NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
"We do not believe it’s a competitive advantage."
To some degree, Goodell is right. Most stadiums that are allowing fans to attend games this fall have strict guidelines and have limited the number of attendees to a fraction of the venue's capacity.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said that Dallas plans for fans to be present this fall, but AT&T Stadium will be a maximum 50% full, and likely less than that. Fans will also be spread out to follow proper social distancing guidelines.
So, is it really possibly for stadiums with fans to have an advantage over those that don't? Probably not.
Earlier this week, Washington head coach Ron Rivera was asked the same question, if stadiums that have fans will have an advantage.
Rivera, like Goodell, said no.
"Well, unless they’re going to have 80,000 people in the stands, I don’t know how much of an advantage it will create," Rivera told local reporters last Tuesday.
"I can’t imagine people having that many fans and it will make a difference," Rivera said. "If someone has 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 fans, OK good. But I don’t know how much of an impact they’ll have in terms of noise and all that kind of stuff."
Washington has already announced that it will play home games this season without fans.The nearby Baltimore Ravens have also said the same.
Stadiums that don't have fans will also be pumping in artificial crowd noise, trying to replicate the gameday atmosphere as much as possible.
Washington held a practice session at FedExField on Monday, where they experimented with the fake crowd noise.
Afterward, quarterback Dwayne Haskins admitted that the crowd noise worked.
"It was loud. I think the biggest thing is just trying to make the game a game-like atmosphere with no fans in the stadium," Haskins said. "I feel like we kind of did that today just with the excitement and having that feeling of just being in the stadium."
Additionally, the second-year passer said he was forced to speak louder in the huddle due to the pumped in noise.
If anything, the artificial crowd noise will make a difference in terms of which home stadiums have an advantage. Home field advantage won't come from fans in 2020, even in places they're allowed to show up.