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NFL considering a “bubble-like” scenario for 2020 playoffs

Come January, the NFL may step up their COVID-19 procedures for the postseason.

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In a report by Kevin Seifert of ESPN, the NFL is considering a number of possibilities in order to better limit the exposure of COVID-19 when it comes to the 2020 postseason, including New Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton’s idea of holding the playoffs in a “bubble.”

The NFL chose not to go with a bubble approach for the regular season this fall as the extent of the time and personnel appeared to be unrealistic. As stated by Siefert in his article on the proposal of playing in a “bubble-like” scenario for the postseason, the NFL instead went with what they called a “virtual football bubble” due to their rules and protocols in relation to COVID-19.

But when it comes to the postseason, being able to create a bubble-like environment should be more attainable due to a smaller time frame and reduced number of teams. Although the league is not sure exactly what they legally can do, they are considering all options at this time.

Of course, there are two major factors on opposite ends of the spectrum which could affect how the NFL proceeds with the 2020 post season.

First, the league has to get there. Whether it be the entire regular season or one which is somewhat cut short much like other professional sports leagues, the NFL and all associated personnel including coaches, players, and team employees must stick with the strict guidelines in order to ensure games are able to be safely played. If problems arise and the NFL cannot pull off their regular season, protocols for the playoffs become irrelevant. But on a positive note, the number of players currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list is in the single digits league wide.

Second, it is unclear what health regulations will be come January. While it is prudent for the NFL to have a plan in place, ongoing regulations and CDC recommendations have changed so much over the last six months, it would be naïve to believe things will be the same five months from now come January.

So can the NFL pull off the bubble-like approach for their postseason? With much larger rosters and team personnel, it would be much more difficult than the NBA or NHL although they have seen great success in the approach. But if some cities are able to have fans in the stands for their NFL games, I’m sure playing in the postseason on a neutral field is not something scheduled home teams would like to see. Of course, this is assuming the NFL would take the neutral-site approach like the NBA and NHL.

Ultimately, the 2020 postseason will go down much like the NFL’s 2020 regular season has for the last six months with a “wait-and-see” approach. If the guidelines set forth by the NFL and Players Association are keeping players safe and the regular season can go off without a glitch, there would be a little reason to change things up for the postseason. But if the NFL’s current approach does not work, talk of a postseason may be a moot point.

Here are some other other Covid-related items reported by Seifert including sideline personnel and testing of players who have already been positive for COVID-19:

* Vincent confirmed that commissioner Roger Goodell has formed a COVID-19 advisory board to help make some decisions during the season that normally would fall under the competition committee’s purview. Vincent declined to name the members of the board, but said they would help Goodell make decisions about potential schedule changes, postponements, cancellations and other issues that could be a conflict of interest for the competition committee’s members.

* The NFL tweaked its protocol to eliminate testing for any person who was known to have tested positive in the past 90 days. The change reflects new CDC guidance that previously infected people retain immunity for at least three months. Although they won’t be tested, those people will still be required to follow mask and other personal protective equipment protocol.

* The league distributed travel and game-day protocols to teams this week. In order to minimize the number of people on the field before a game, the league has barred cheerleaders, mascots, sideline reporters and fans from the field at all times.

* Sills said that the league is following advancements in saliva testing but gave no indication that it would switch from its current protocol of PCR tests. “Anything we do has to be filtered through the lens of having the most accurate and efficient test that we can,” he said.

* Sills said that feedback has been “mixed” on a plastic mask designed by Oakley that attaches to helmets and is designed to minimize spread of the virus during practices and games. Concerns about the breathability of the mask have led Oakley to develop a new version that will soon be distributed, Sills said.

* There has been no decision on whether the league will continue to conduct daily COVID-19 testing during the regular season, Sills said. The NFL and NFL Players Association testing agreement expires Sept. 5, after which they will have to decide whether to extend the daily tests or, if infection rates remain low, reduce them to every other day.

Seifert’s full article on the possibilities the NFL is exploring for the postseason can be viewed HERE.