NFL & COVID-19: Commissioner Chappell mandates a path to finish the 2020 season
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
Tom Chappell from the Stiff Upper Lip podcast joins us again today and discusses the impact of COVID-19 on the NFL season so far and how it could be possible to minimise the risk of the disease to the NFL moving forward.
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An emerging outbreak
February 2nd, 2020 – Kansas City Chiefs win the Superbowl in a full Hard Rock Stadium, Miami. Over in Wuhan, there is a deadly outbreak of a contagious virus not too dissimilar to the terrifying SARS virus. Soon after, the virus begins to spread worldwide, and world leaders struggle to get their heads around stopping the virus in its tracks to varying degrees of effort. Every league in every sport was halted for at least 2 weeks, some cancelled outright.
After months of uncertainty, it was announced that we would have an NFL season after all, with no pre-season to endure. There would even be fans in attendance on opening week (albeit at about 10% capacity in Kansas City). Goodell-bot had spoken; let there be football.
This was met with many questions that would need to be answered. Every other sport had answered these – the NBA and NHL had decided to play their long-postponed season in a bubble with no access to the outside world for the teams taking part. But the NFL was brash and noble and felt confident that 53 players and 20 coaches would stay clear of outside influence; that COVID would only lightly brush the sport. “Hey look! We are going to give you all 3 extra practice squad members! That’ll be fine, right?”
Indecision and uncertainty clouds the nascent 2020 NFL season
Through 3 weeks we had the occasional minor scare – why were fans being allowed in with the country still struggling to deal with the crisis? Who knows, but there they were, and they were getting ill. No such comfort for week 4, however.
The situation has worsened, and things look bleak – unless you are a Russian bot on Twitter trying to deny the disease with four Star Spangled Banners in your handle.
The Titans’ game in Minnesota was played despite heavy rumours of a linebacker coach contracting the virus and spreading it with positive tests galore throughout the team. This has then resulted in their game with the Steelers being pushed to week 7, and both teams are forced into an early bye week. The uncertainty over games being played is spreading like the disease itself and may also impact the Titans game with Buffalo.
Meanwhile in New England, star quarterback Cam Newton has contracted the disease, and is now ruled out of their game with Kansas City. It’s not just Cam though, the Chiefs have also had a confirmed positive case, leaving the game in jeopardy at time of writing, and is to be played either later in the game-week, or potentially pushing it further on in the season. There is also the case with Michael Burton having a false positive that very nearly put the Lions/Saints game in peril too.
Will Super Bowl 55 ever go ahead?
This won’t be the first or last time this sort of thing would happen in this NFL season and, without meaning to be the bearer of bad news, if this carries on we won’t have a season to take for granted. That is the black and white of it – either the NFL sorts this out or we have no 2020 season: no Superbowl 55.
Is a brief hiatus the answer?
So, to offer my unwanted feedback and some potential solutions, I would like to propose something to the NFL so we can all get back to talking football and not Coronavirus protocols. First, I would mandate a 1-month suspension of all games following the end of week 4. This would enable all the logistics of the plan to be worked out and it would also mean that any positive case would have time to finish any incubation periods and potentially allow the players to isolate and get healthy without putting their teammates or opposition at risk.
During this 1-month suspension, I would take all of the teams whose governors are clueless hacks with their head in the sand out of there – we’re talking Titans, Dolphins, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Panthers, Chiefs, (Texans, Cowboys?). These teams will all be relocated to another stadium temporarily to close out the season.
If possible we keep them within the same division, so the Jags would go play in Houston, Titans would go to Indianapolis, Dolphins to Buffalo, Cardinals to LA, Chiefs to Las Vegas, Panthers to Atlanta, Buccaneers to New Orleans. Then, all games would be played behind closed doors, no fans whatsoever; you can’t be trusted and it’s either we all get to watch it on TV, or we cancel the season.
Because relocating 8 teams from their homes and taking them away from their families would cause issues for morale, and people will still be worried about COVID, we will give any player who wishes to opt out during this month suspension the opportunity to do so with no penalisation. Everybody lives in a hotel for the next 3 months like how they did it in the NBA and NHL – where there aren’t any COVID cases being found - but if you break the rules you’re suspended for the next month, no question and without pay. No messing about here. If you want football, this is a price you must pay.
The Playoff bubble
The play-offs will then be held at a pair of stadiums; one in the North East for the AFC/NFC North and East teams, one in the South West for the AFC/NFC South and West teams. Simple, right? I propose we use fields that are new and can withstand the high wear and tear, we’re talking SoFi Stadium in LA, and U.S Bank Stadium in Minnesota. We would of course also continue to test regularly. This would mean the season will actually finish around about the end of February/beginning of March due to the suspension of the league.
Maybe I shouldn’t be commissioner after all, actually…