The NFL is out of options. COVID-19 is spreading around the league. The decision-makers must at this point face a daunting fact: It’s time to drastically alter the league calendar to create more time between games — and more flexibility for moving games — to ensure safety for players and their families.
The solution is simple: Push the playoffs back two weeks. (It wouldn’t hurt if they moved the Super Bowl to a Saturday, too.) Week 17 will be completed on Jan. 3rd, with a new expanded Wild Card Weekend slated to begin the following Saturday, Jan. 9.
Instead, there should be a two week buffer to allow for games to be rescheduled or moved, creating space for teams to avoid rushing back onto the field.
The NFL needs to limit the possibility of super-spreader events by acknowledging the incubation period of the virus (two to 14 days). Positive tests are almost certainly going to continue happening, the league needs more flexibility than it currently has when it comes to adjusting the schedule.
Yes, the NFL could lose money. But isn’t that better than losing lives? These players are not in a bubble. In many cases, they’re living with their families and — because of the NFL’s irresponsible and disorganized approach — endangering their loved ones.
No situation is more serious than the one in Tennessee. The Titans had a moment of false hope on Wednesday, when none of the players or staff tested positive for COVID-19. But the test results on Thursday dashed any excitement that the Titans might moving past their outbreak: a new positive test, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and the revelation that an inconclusive test from Wednesday ended up being positive. The Titans haven’t been in their facility for meetings or practice for almost two weeks.
There are reports that the NFL could push back the Week 5 matchup between the Titans and the Buffalo Bills from Sunday to Monday or Tuesday. But Buffalo is scheduled to play the Chiefs in a rare must-see Thursday game next week. So then that game would have to be moved.
A Wednesday-Saturday turnaround would be absolutely brutal for the Bills.
If, instead, the NFL added two weeks after the season and moved games further down the line, it could get closer to covering the incubation period of the virus since the Titans’ last point of contact, an unsanctioned player-organized workout on Sept. 30. (What were those player thinking?) As it stands now, all of this is too rushed.
The NFL tried cutting corners in Weeks 3 and 4, and the results were not good. The Patriots were forced to fly to Kansas City after 20 players were in close contact with Cam Newton, who tested COVID-positive on Friday. Those 20 players were put on a separate plane, which Stephon Gilmore, who also tested COVID-positive on Wednesday, was riding. (Gilmore reportedly ate dinner with Newton on Friday.) And to complicate matters even more, Gilmore got face to face with quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the field after their Week 4 matchup.
So how can the NFL possibly bring Titans players back in time to play a game on Monday or Tuesday of next week? And even if they did return, are they in any condition to go right to playing football, having missed so much practice time? Meanwhile the Bills are being asked to play against a team with potential undetected infections — at their stadium.
So why is the NFL forcing this game to happen? Money, of course. That’s what the NFL, historically, holds above everything else. And the players are probably thinking about money, too. If they don’t play, they don’t get their game checks — an unfortunate wrinkle that encourages NFL players to act against their own well-being,
The solution is so obvious that it’s staggering the NFL hasn’t executed it. The league needs more time to help control the spread of this disease before teams continue to play. If league officials — or the owners; that’s really who decides these things — force these games to take place at the pace they’ve predetermined, they’re encouraging the spread of the virus. (They’re also weakening the quality of the product, if most of a team’s players can’t actually play and entire teams can’t practice.)
Yes, pushing the playoffs back means that some playoff games might end up being played in northern climates on bitterly cold, snowy days. Maybe an adjustment needs to be made for that, too, such as a playoff bubble. Nothing is normal right now; the key is to build flexibility into every plan. It doesn’t seem like the NFL has done that, but there’s still time.
So the NFL should adapt and adjust — just like the rest of the United States has done during this pandemic. The league should push back the start of the playoffs so that it can have the scheduling leeway to save an increasingly imperiled season.