Is the NFL Season in Jeopardy?

I wrote an article back in late August, right before the NFL season started, detailing how I thought the NFL did not have a strong enough plan for the league to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. All three other major sports leagues in America had much more comprehensive plans in place at the time, which included isolated bubbles (NHL and NBA), no fans (MLB, NHL, NBA), and frequent testing (MLB, NHL, NBA). But after this morning's news of 3 additional players testing positive, the outlook on the remaining NFL season is looking more and more grim. 

Wednesday morning reports came out from ESPN’s Adam Schefter that two additional players on the COVID ridden Titans were infected, bringing their total to 24 positive staff/players in their organization. The news was quickly followed up with another positive test out of New England, this time with superstar cornerback Stephon Gilmore, just four days after his teammate Cam Newton tested positive for the virus. 

(Picture Credit: NFL Spin Zone)

At this point, I hate to say it, but I think it’s doubtful that the NFL is able to finish the season, or at the very least won’t be able to have each team play 16 games. The first two weeks went flawlessly for the league, only having one player test positive for the virus during that time, but it is quickly spiraling out of control, especially when looking at the Titans organization. I think for me, that’s one of my biggest takeaways from this, is just how quickly one positive case can set back an entire organization. Having one player test positive doesn’t just impact that one player because they can’t play in a game, it sets back the entire organization, and as we’ve already seen, it normally means that a team's game will be canceled/postponed, or in the very least moved back a day or two. 

The NFL does not have the luxury that the MLB does, where they can fit in double headers if games are missed, or fit them in matching off-days that teams share. The NFL has no wiggle room, and missing a game or two for a team could be the end of things if the league is truly trying to make this a “normal” season. The Super Bowl is set for February 7th, and that date is non-negotiable. I’m sure the league will try and cram fans into the stadium to try and make it seem like a Super Bowl any other year, but we can’t even get to that point if the problems that present themselves right now aren’t fixed. However, in my opinion I don’t think these problems can be fixed, they could have been fixed if the NFL had planned for things like this to happen, but they refused to do that and their ignorance is going to come back to bite them. 

(Picture Credit: Pro Football Network)

Some ideas that I had over the summer for the NFL included having a normal season just in a bubble which many said would’ve been too big of production, so as a compromise I thought of three smaller bubbles, where each team plays 10 games, only against teams in their own bubble. Or even if they wanted to have a normal season, it should’ve been started earlier in August, to provide time for situations like this where teams are unable to play because of an outbreak. 

The league canceled the pre-season this year, and what was the reason for that? Because they had no plan in place for those games and how to handle the transactions of teams leaving and going to other cities at that time. All in all, it has just been a really sloppy job by the NFL and it’s not looking good. 

As I said in my first blog, the NFL had no real concrete plans set in place, as there will be no bubble for the season, fans are allowed at the majority of the stadium, and their testing plan seems to be a very cloudy rumor of how often they are really testing players and staff. It’s now been over seven months since the COVID outbreak started in the U.S., and the NFL has shown that they really did think they could sweep this problem under the rug and not have it affect them.  

We stand at a crossroads right now, where things could get messy from here on out. I personally think this is only the beginning, because this virus grows exponentially once one person gets it. There’s images circulating on the internet today from Monday’s Patriots/Chiefs game, where Patrick Mahomes and Stephon Gilmore after the game are shaking each others hands, talking to each other face to face with no masks, having no idea that Gilmore had the virus. Just 36 hours later Gilmore has a positive test, and now no one knows if Mahomes or anyone else on the Chiefs were infected. 

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I want more than anything for the NFL season to keep going, especially because the NBA and NHL will be starting late this year, and I know the league will do everything they can to continue playing as well. However, they’ve handled this situation horribly, and I unfortunately think they’re going to pay for their carelessness. 

-Andrew Gardner, UNH '23 

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