Alex Brandon/Associated Press
President Donald Trump addressed Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comments on the feasibility of playing football in the fall.
“Tony Fauci has nothing to do with NFL Football,” Trump tweeted. “They are planning a very safe and controlled opening. However, if they don’t stand for our National Anthem and our Great American Flag, I won’t be watching!!!”
While the NFL has begun opening its facilities for voluntary workouts, the league has not publicly made any formal plans for the 2020 season. The league is currently moving forward with plans as they would in a typical season, though they are requiring teams to stay at their home facilities for training camp.
Fans are currently expected to be allowed to attend NFL games. This runs contrary to every other major professional sport in the United States. The NBA, NHL, MLB and WNBA all plan to return without fans.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said players would need to be in a bubble format to make playing in 2020 a possibility.
“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,” Fauci said on CNN. “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.”
A bubble scenario is harder for the NFL than any other professional sport because of the sheer number of players on rosters. Between active rosters and practice squads, there are more than 2,100 players signed by NFL teams during the regular season. Add in the full coaching staff and medical staff of every team, the number quickly expands past 3,000 people. That’s all without counting friends and family members, team/league executives and other workers who would have to be quarantined to keep a bubble safe.
Issues with the volume of people are coupled with a lack of cities that could feasibly hold up to 16 NFL games per week and keep players safe.
One potential option to start the NFL season could be splitting teams into regional bubbles that would limit the number of players in one place. The NFL could, theoretically, have East, West, North and South bubbles with eight teams apiece. Each of those teams could play their fellow bubble teams twice apiece, giving the NFL a 14-game regular season.
To replace some of the losses caused by the shortened regular season, the NFL could negotiate an expanded playoffs (16 teams, or the top four from each bubble) that is played at neutral bubble sites.
These would be significant changes, and there hasn’t been any indication the NFL has explored such plans. However, as the pandemic continues stretching into the summer, the NFL may need to start looking into alternative possibilities to save the 2020 season.