Throughout all of the NFL news coverage since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been an underlying concern that all of the hype would be for nothing. The fate of the season itself was in doubt.
It was a taboo topic, as not many sports fans and writers wanted to bring it up while sharing their predictions for the upcoming season. When the NFL draft rolled around, there was a nice break from the drama of everyday life. But at the back of all of our minds was one question: Would the newcomers even get a chance to play this year?
Coronavirus has already affected each rookie’s entrance into the league, and it will surely impact their readiness to play once the season actually starts. At the very least there is a growing chance that there will be season, to some extent, this year.
One of the most telling signs that there will be a season are the actions of the NFL and its owners, who have been preparing for a season long before it seemed reasonable to expect one. They conducted the draft as usual, released the schedule on time, and even included a full slate of preseason games. The Hall of Fame game between the Steelers and Cowboys is tentatively planned, but the fact that it is even on the schedule in the first place shows the optimism there is a chance of it actually happening.
The NFL also went ahead with starting to open up their facilities again on May 19th. Even though it was only minimal capacity, it was still a step towards opening in full.
Some of the state governors most behind the coronavirus lockdowns, such as California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have seemingly changed their minds in regards to the virus, with Newsom stating that professional sports could return to his state in June. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a prominent member of the federal government’s coronavirus response team, has also begun to support reopening states. Even though it was obvious that states such as Florida would be more than supportive of football returning this fall, the nationally spread-out nature of the NFL would need states with more stringent lockdown orders, such as California, to reopen. If so, this could allow the league to return across the board.
With the MLB, NBA, and NHL all considering returning at some point this year, the NFL will be far from the only sports league attempting to play in 2020. Even though they will need to start up training camps sooner than later if they want to start on time, the NFL will be able to watch how the other leagues succeed and fail ahead of them to properly plan their upcoming season. The NCAA is beginning to allow teams to practice, while both the UFC and WWE have recently returned without fans.
The Steelers began selling individual tickets on May 22nd, but only at 50% of the available seats. This understandably points to a season, but with minimal to no fans.
But what could hinder the league opening on time this year?
A resurgence in the virus would definitely give every state and corporation second thoughts about reopening, as would an excessive amount of positive tests among the athletes and team personnel. Federal and state policies are continuing to trend towards allowing sports back this year, but opinions still could change.
Even though the NFL season starts in September, teams need time to practice and solidify their roster long before Week 1. If voluntary workouts, training camp, or the preseason are pushed back too far, it could have negative implications for the regular season starting on time, if at all.
Each day we are trudging closer to sports being back, but the actual timeframe is still very much in question.
This article is not to debate whether the NFL should or shouldn’t reopen, but rather if they will or won’t. Coronavirus concerns aside, the league is a money-making business, and their decisions will be influenced by the bottom line. Owners are bracing to lose millions of dollars if fans can’t attend games, which would worsen by a lot if the season is flat-out cancelled. They will do whatever they can to make sure their teams play this year.
The stands may be empty this year, but the field certainly won’t. There’s every reason to expect an NFL season in 2020.