Sports are back in the United States but with different levels of success.
To avoid COVID-19 infection, the NBA and NHL instituted strict bubbles where players, coaches, media and staff are sequestered away from the general public. Major League Baseball eschewed the bubble model and instead is asking its players to be responsible as they travel the country for games. It's not working well, and in the case of the Miami Marlins, it's been awful.
So with the NFL season scheduled to start in about six weeks, what would be the best course of action?
The league already decided against the bubble concept with the biggest reason being that NFL rosters are just too large. 80-man teams combined with coaches and medical staff, then add scouts and front office personnel and perhaps media on top? That could easily be 150-people per team, and the league has 32 teams. That's almost 5,000 people to hole up somewhere; it's a logistical nightmare.
But as the NHL and NBA seasons begin largely without incident, and as the MLB season seems on the edge of complete unravel, maybe it's time to re-examine the concept of an NFL bubble.
One city - or region - looks particularly prepared to handle that prospect. Where?
Within about 40 miles between Baltimore and Washington D.C. hold three large stadiums equipped to handle NFL football:
- FedEx Field where the Washington Football Team plays (Landover, MD)
- M&T Bank Stadium where the Ravens play (Baltimore, MD)
- Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium where the University of Maryland plays (College Park, MD)
Change the criteria a bit and three more stadiums could be options
- Audi Field where D.C. United plays (Washington D.C.)
- Nats Park where the Washington Nationals play ( Washington D.C.)
- Oriole Park at Camden Yards where the Baltimore Orioles play (Baltimore, MD)
- Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium where the Naval Academy plays (Annapolis, MD)
That's seven stadiums within 40 miles, plenty to handle the full slate of NFL games over the course of a 16-game season. Especially once the games get spread out over Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The sod on some of the fields could become a problem, but installing FieldTurf would have to be considered a real option as the country deals with much bigger problems during a global pandemic. There's also the issue of scheduling football games at Nats Park and Camden Yards while baseball season wraps up, but with flexibility from the NFL those issues could be resolved. Not to mention that baseball will be over by late October anyway and the NFL season should continue into the holiday season.
Why else would the greater D.C. area work?
There are plenty of hotels and particularly in Washington a local knowledge base of handling large events. The NFL could almost set up divisional pods in the area between Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland. Practice space could be at a premium, but there are plenty of smaller colleges and elite high schools with fields that could handle NFL practices.
Let's be clear - this isn't ideal - but it might be the best way to actually get an NFL season in the middle of the Coronavirus catastrophe.
Other cities could make sense - notably Los Angeles.
L.A. has plenty of stadiums too - The Coliseum, The Rose Bowl, Home Depot Center - but the biggest question would be the availability of the brand new SoFi Stadium. If that's ready, and it's close, LA makes more sense than D.C. While the projected open date for the facility was July 2020, it's still not officially open, and that creates a problem for LA.
Plus playing on the West Coast presents television problems. The NFL needs games in its traditional Sunday 1 p.m. window. That would be a 10 am kickoff, and players would hate it.
Other big cities present other options. The Dallas/Fort Worth area has big-time stadiums for the Cowboys, SMU and TCU and probably a host of high schools for practice. Seattle boasts stadiums both for the Seahawks and the University of Washington. Of course there are a ton of major football stadiums in the state of Florida, but watch the news; no bubble is going to the Sunshine State.
Still, most major cities do a better job of sharing stadiums than the D.C. area. New York has one major stadium despite being the biggest city in the country. Same with Chicago. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both do a better job of sharing one major football stadium among pro teams and college teams.
It's politics and geography that makes D.C. the best option. When visiting foreign dignitaries come to town, they stay in high-end hotels. The same kind that NFL players would expect. And the hostility that separates the D.C. and Baltimore markets create for multiple great stadium options with the University of Maryland sandwiched in between.
This all seems like a long shot.
The NFL not only wants its teams playing in their home stadiums and working out at their own facilities, but the league wants fans in the stands where possible. That is the polar opposite of a bubble like the NBA has.
There's also the logistics of NFL teams' practice facilities. These are typically huge spaces with equipment rooms, medical space, giant locker rooms. That would be harder to replicate than finding stadiums for games.
An NFL bubble happening seems unlikely to happen. Highly unlikely in fact. If it should, however, D.C. would be the best place for it.
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