Although the Commissioner has subtly shifted his vow from playing a full season to playing a complete one, the NFL privately has a high degree of confidence that the 2020 season will be played in full, pandemic notwithstanding.
Yes, a hardened bubble in some cities may become necessary, with extended “voluntary” hotel stays by players, coaches, and essential staff (some teams will do it all week, non-stop; some are thinking about a Tuesday-to-Sunday approach), who would remain away from family in order to avoid becoming infected by kids, spouses, or others who may be living with the players, coaches, etc. But it’s believed that, if the spread of the virus can be limited during training camp (there were zero additions to the COVID-19 list on Saturday), it will become easier not harder when the time comes to play games.
The dynamics will adjust soon, once padded practices begin. For teams that aren’t practicing in their stadiums, where multiple locker rooms are available to be used (the Steelers have four at Heinz Field), it will be more difficult to keep players at least six feet apart while inside. (For some teams, locker-room proximity is already an issue.) The league remains confident, however, that transmission of the virus will be much harder to accomplish while practicing or playing, given that these activities will take place outdoors or in well-ventilated domes or facilities with high roofs.
Testing also is improving, with point of care tests recently introduced to supplement off-site testing, which takes longer to generate a result. Although the availability of reagent material could become a factor (especially if the virus continues to spread), the league remains confident that it will be able to conduct as many tests as needed.
Will there be glitches? Yes. Will some players be prevented from playing or practicing despite having no symptoms? Absolutely. Will it be enough to shut down the season or lose games? Today, five weeks from the first Sunday of the season, the league doesn’t believe so.
Others connected to the process feel differently. Some are concerned that the protocols are more about optics than safety, aimed at giving the league office cover in the event that a player, coach, staff member, or one of their family members becomes infected, gets seriously ill, and possibly dies. Right or wrong, the people who run the league remain confident that it will work.
That may hard for many to accept as the fall college football season circles the drain, but pro football has significant and fundamental differences that point to success even if college football can’t pull it off.
Either way, time will tell. In 32 days, the first game will be played, when the Texans visit the Chiefs. In 35 days, a bunch of other games will be played. After the first wave of games, if there’s no spike in positive tests that wipes out rosters or position groups or chunks of coaching staffs, maybe it will work.