Of the three big sports leagues that govern our sports lives (and, selfishly, the ones that steer the conversation on my sports talk show on SportsRadio 610), the one that has been most steadfast in trying to maintain its normalcy amidst COVID-19 has been the National Football League. The other two leagues, the NBA and MLB, falling behind the NFL in that respect, to be fair, was very much out of their control. The pandemic hit in the middle of (NBA) or just before (MLB) the start of their seasons.
The NFL has the benefit of time, and up until the last couple weeks, they've done a pretty good job of making sure that the revenue generating events stayed on track. The first cracks in the armor, though, began popping up in the last two weeks, with the cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game, the postponement of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and the truncation of the preseason from four games to two.
So what does this all mean? Are we getting football this fall? Let's be honest, even the NFL doesn't know the answer to that question right now. The COVID-19 virus is a fickle beast. Here are the things that we DO know right now:
The NFL is implementing safety protocols out the wazoo
I'll give all three sports credit — if these seasons don't come off, it won't be for a lack of attempted extreme caution. They've all put reams and reams of written protocols together, with seemingly every angle of player and staff safety from the virus in mind. The NFL has gone down to the most minute details of requiring players to disinfect their PHONES before entering the building. They've put extensive flow charts together on how positive COVID tests and exposure to those players will be handled:
The NFL last night sent to clubs COVID-19 protocols for 2020 training camp and preseason, including this detailed breakdown for handling individuals exposed to someone who tested positive: pic.twitter.com/bX7aQzMZTZ— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 4, 2020
It remains to be seen how the league addresses perhaps the most slippery of all slopes, the actual play on the field and the inherent lack of social distancing that goes on with large human beings colliding for over 100 plays a game, with spit flying everywhere. I'm guessing there will be some recommendations on face shields and other preventive components.
Yes, the preseason is now sliced in half, at least
Last week it was announced that the NFL would be eliminating Weeks 1 and 4 of the 2020 preseason. Subsequently, the players association voted to eliminate the remaining two preseason games. It remains to be seen if the owners will acquiesce with the complete elimination of the preseason schedule (and the revenue that comes with it), but it is safe to say that we have probably seen our last four game preseason ever, considering the league is possibly moving to 17 regular season games next season. The league is couching this reduction in the preseason schedule for 2020 as precautionary, allowing players a longer ramp up before playing actual games, but it is the first moves the owners have made where they are voluntarily walking away from revenue (something they NEVER do), so it's slightly daunting.
Texans season ticket holders were presented with some options last week
About a week ago the Texans sent an email to season ticket holders. Stephanie Stradley was kind enough to tweet out a screen grab of the email:
Houston #Texans season ticket holders just got notice of options for the 2020 season. I'm told that if you go through the form, it says you have until Aug 1 to decide. Here's what it says: pic.twitter.com/HhRZ5tnDh7— Stephanie Stradley (@StephStradley) June 30, 2020
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So, basically, three choices — hang tight and see if there is football in 2020, or by August 1, decide whether you want your money back or your money applied to 2021. There are probably two motivations here. One, it's just good customer service to offer these options right now, given the rapid rise in unemployment and the tough times in general. Second, if we are in a situation come September that the Texans can have crowds at, say, 25 or 50 percent (a HUGE IF, right now), then the Texans can know ahead of time which ticket holders will not be back for the reduced crowds. It makes managing the situation easier. For what it's worth, here's what a smattering of the season ticket holders said they would do:
If you are a #Texans season ticket holder, what will you do?— Stephanie Stradley (@StephStradley) June 30, 2020
The start of the season could still be delayed
The NFL has been pointing toward September 10, the Texans' opening the season in Kansas City with a game against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, as a sports celebration. Right now, I am expecting the league to start the season on time. However, the league has some extreme flexibility built into its schedule, should they choose to delay things. Tampa Bay is set to host the Super Bowl, and reportedly they could accommodate the big event all the way through early March. Thus, the math says that the season could get pushed back, theoretically, to start in mid-October and still have a normal 16-game season.