INDIANAPOLIS – One of the nation’s foremost voices on the COVID-19 pandemic offered a word of advice to those making plans for the upcoming NFL season: make certain your travel deposits are refundable.
Anthony Fauci is an admitted sports enthusiast, but the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offered a serious concern about whether there will be pro football this fall.
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” he said in an interview with CNN medical expert Sanja Gupta. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
Dr. Allen Stills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, was quick to respond to Fauci’s comments.
“We are developing a comprehensive and rapid result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem,’’ he said in a statement. “This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts and other sports leagues.
“Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.’’
The NFL has taken a business-as-usual approach the past four months while the coronavirus forced the sporting world to hit the pause button and forced the league to carry on its business – free agency, the draft, offseason workouts – on a virtual platform.
That’s about to change. While league officials are considering numerous options and contingency plans, they are moving ahead with the expectation of their on-field schedule being followed.
That means training camps opening July 22 at team headquarters.
That means Pittsburgh and Dallas meeting Aug. 6 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Two days later, induction ceremonies will be held for the Class of 2020, including Edgerrin James.
That means the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles opening the preseason Aug. 13 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
That means the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans converging in Arrowhead Stadium Sept. 10 for the start of the regular season, and the Colts traveling to Jacksonville three days later.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has issued memos to teams outlining protocols that must be followed when players report. Every safety precaution possible will in place, but it seems inevitable players will contract the virus.
Earlier this week, it was reported members of the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans tested positive. The infected included Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. Others who have tested positive for COVID-19 include Denver linebacker Von Miller and Denver safety Kareem Jackson and Los Angeles Rams center Brian Allen.
During an interview with ESPN, Goodell said the league expects to have positive tests as it reopens.
“That is part of the increased testing that we will be going through and that is something that we just want to make sure our protocols are working and to date,” he said. “We are seeing very positive reactions in the sense that we are making sure we respond quickly, protect the personnel that may be impacted by that and others that may be in contact with them.”
So much is uncertain as the NFL moves ahead.
However, the league should benefit from how other professional leagues react to restarting amid the pandemic. The NBA is planning on a July reopening at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. That offers the “bubble” environment mentioned by Fauci. Also, it appears Major League Baseball might return.
Among NFL guidelines is a six-foot separation for players in the locker room. But those players will be up-close-and-personal for two hours on the practice field.
If, for instance, a wide receiver tests positive, is he the only one quarantined or must the entire receivers room be quarantined? How about other offensive players he was in contact with?
Can you imagine the impact a few selective positive tests would have as a team prepares for an upcoming game? What if the infected player is the starting quarterback or Pro Bowl wideout or pass rusher? And what if the decision is those who had contact with the infected player also must go into quarantine?
Colts nickel back Kenny Moore II indicated he’ll put his trust in the Colts and medical officials when it comes time to report amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we’re able to go to work, there’s not much for me to ask,” he said last month. “I mean if everything is safe and healthy and we’re all screened and everybody is passing the test, I don’t see a worry there.”
Frank Reich has been adamant in following the virtual offseason regimen. He believes it’s been beneficial preparing for the season.
“The approach the whole offseason has been it’s going to be a normal offseason,” he said. “We’re going to start April 20. We did start April 20. We couldn’t be together, but we had a plan to start April 20 and we started April 20.
“Our plan is we’re going to start training camp on time. We’re going to play four preseason games and then we’re starting week 1 against Jacksonville, so be ready for that. Let’s not be caught by surprise by what is normal because right now, what is normal is everything that is not normal.
“Let’s not be surprised and caught off guard if all of a sudden the NFL says, ‘Hey, by the way, we’re on.’ The last thing I would say about that is as the head coach, the only thing I do is I assure the guys that we have made a plan for every contingency that we can possibly think of that the NFL will bring us.”