If we've learned one thing during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's that nothing is going to be easy when it comes to reopening businesses. We know this all too well in the state of Texas. Professional sports leagues are, at their core, businesses, and reopening them has become even more complicated than the powers that be likely imagined.
Spiking COVID numbers, social distancing parameters that had zero intent to be used to play contact sports, and the almighty dollar have converged in one standoff already with Major League Baseball, and it appears as though those storm clouds are looming again in trying to commence the 2020 National Football League season. Actually, forget the season right now, they're having trouble even figuring out how to start TRAINING CAMP.
In case you haven't been keeping up to speed, here are the significant tweets from NFL news breakers over the weekend, outlining all of the major issues:
Update on where things stand 18 days out:— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 10, 2020
— Almost everything is done and agreed to except for number of preseason games and testing protocols.
— No fans will be at training camp, but teams can have up to two fan events at stadiums this preseason with strict protocols if allowed
Other notes:— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 10, 2020
— Where fans are allowed at games, they will wear face coverings.
— Actual training camp schedule of practices can be tied to the preseason game questions, so not there yet.
— The economics are not yet finalized, either. https://t.co/Q1CZqusMRG
The NFLPA sent the NFL an economic counterproposal, per sources:— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 11, 2020
- No escrow of 2020 salaries
- Flat salary cap of $198.2M for 2021
- Spread revenue loss this year over 2022-2030 caps
- All fully guaranteed money paid even if games are canceled
Call scheduled for Monday.
The NFL and NFLPA are on the same page that they don’t want the salary cap to plummet in 2021. It’s about how they account for a multibillion-dollar revenue loss. NFL proposed 35% of player salaries in escrow; NFLPA doesn’t want one year of players to take the whole hit.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 11, 2020
That's a lot to digest, and with a call scheduled for later today between the league and the players, hopefully some progress is made and there are happier, more definitive posts about a 2020 season in the near future. For now, here are my thoughts on where things stand in bringing back professional football (don't get me started on the clown show that college football is right now) in 2020:
Please, don't do this again, sports people
On Saturday, I saw this tweet from ESPN's Jeff Darlington with a video of a brief discussion he had on SportsCenter about bringing back football:
As the NFL and NFLPA work toward resolving issues surrounding a season with lower revenue but more player risk, here's a quick primer on where things stand with critical meetings looming next week: pic.twitter.com/KYWMzkSY17— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) July 11, 2020
If you were someone who was completely turned off by the time-wasting, infuriating staring contest between MLB owners and players, then this video was probably a huge red siren. You can basically Mad-Lib in the NFL owners and players into whatever was being discussed regarding MLB three weeks ago, and it would essentially be THIS VIDEO. I implore the NFL owners and players to refrain from making this negotiation a public spectacle, and beg both sides to refrain from disingenuously saying you're doing any of your posturing "for our fans." You're doing it for yourselves, and that's fine, just admit it. I will say that, given the risk of COVID transmission in their sport and the general injury risk, I am more sympathetic to NFL players than I am MLB players. Let's hope this gets resolved quickly.
There should be a solution for the preseason schedule issue, and here's why
The NFL owners have already canceled the preseason games set to take place in Weeks 1 and 4 of the preseason. Meanwhile, the players voted recently to propose there be NO preseason games AT ALL. The amount of revenue tied to the preseason, especially with no fans in the stadium, is a fraction of regular season and postseason money, so eliminating preseason games altogether is not a financial issue, not a major one, at least. It is, however, an issue of opportunity and evaluation. There will be a slew of players with no chance to show what they can do in game situations. In other words, I am guessing that there are at least a few dozen players in every camp that would actually WANT preseason games. Also, NFL teams would like to use the games as a chance to try out their game day COVID protocols, and fix any mistakes before the real games begin. To me, the solution is simple — you continue to stage the two remaining preseason games, but deem that players who have played a certain number of seasons (or a certain percentage of snaps over some period of time, or a combination of both) don't have to play in the preseason games. Then, the players who truly benefit (and likely WANT to benefit) are the only ones playing. Problem solved.
Get used to the phrase "salary cap smoothing"
The financial standoff between players and owners in the NFL will have one glaring difference from the one between the two sides in MLB. In the NFL, both sides know the full financial picture. In MLB, the owners don't open their books. So this negotiation in football, in theory, should be easier to resolve because the owners shouldn't be hiding any money (key word — SHOULDN'T). Instead of figuring out what the owners can "afford to lose," the football negotiation should be more about how the two sides spread the losses so that the salary cap isn't majorly affected in one season, instead finding a way to spread losses out over the future years of the CBA, which runs through 2030. That's the other thing that should make football a smoother road to come back — in baseball, the two sides were negotiating with the end of the current CBA in December 2021 as part of the backdrop. Football just inked a new 11-year CBA right before COVID hit, although it's worth noting that it was BARELY approved by the players' side, by just a 2 percent margin.
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J.J. Watt's reason why he MAY not play is interesting
So there is the money, and then there a myriad of secondary issues that the two sides need to hash out, most of them centered around player safety amidst the coronavirus. Part of that involves protective equipment that players may or may not be asked to wear, including face shields to keep their (possibly) tainted slobber from infecting teammates and opponents. J.J. Watt is not down with that:
“My second year in the league I thought it’d be cool, I put a visor on my helmet,” Watt said during a Wednesday visit to #PFTPM. “I was like, ‘It looks so cool, I wanna put a visor on.’ I had it on for about three periods of practice and I said, ‘Take this sucker off I’m gonna die out here.’ . . . So now you’re gonna put something around my mouth? You can keep that. If that comes into play, I don’t think you’re gonna see me on the field.”
If I had to guess, the face shields will be an optional thing, and since it would be the players' choice, we won't get video of J.J. Watt screaming like a maniac about his rights being infringed upon like some of these lunatics who've gone viral in recent weeks. Too bad!