NFL executives planning for season to start on time, with fans in stands

3:59 PM ET

  • Kevin SeifertESPN Staff Writer

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    • ESPN.com national NFL writer
    • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
    • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

The NFL plans to start its 2020 season on time in September, multiple executives said Tuesday, despite a global coronavirus pandemic that has shut down sports around the world.

“That’s our expectation,” executive vice president/general counsel Jeff Pash said during a media briefing. “Am I certain of that? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow. But I’m planning on it, and in the same way, we’re planning on having a full season.”

Asked whether the league is making contingency plans for a later start, or for games to be played in neutral and/or empty stadiums, Pash said the league’s medical resources and models have indicated those plans might not be necessary.

“All of our discussions,” Pash said, “all of our focus, has been on a normal, traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and a full set of playoffs. That’s our focus.

“We’re still in March, so it’s quite a few months between now and when our season would begin. The belief and the information that we have is leading us to continue on focusing on a season that starts on time and played in a normal way.”

In the meantime, however, normal league operations remain largely shut down. Team facilities are closed to all but a handful of essential employees. In-person free-agent and draft visits have been canceled, offseason programs are in question and the league has pushed back its annual schedule release to a point at or near May 9, according to Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president/chief media and business officer.

During a conference call with owners Tuesday, league executives presented preliminary plans for a virtual offseason program to begin next month, assuming facilities remain closed. Among the possibilities discussed are players receiving digital playbooks at home, allowing for an exchange of videos and also workouts conducted via videoconference software. Teams with new head coaches are eligible to begin offseason programs on April 6.

The April 23-25 draft remains on schedule, but its format has not been finalized. Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of club business and league events, said discussions are underway for a virtual event that would include commissioner Roger Goodell announcing picks from a central location, at least for the first round. Decision makers from each team would be working remotely, under standard social distancing rules that would include a maximum of 10 people per room, all situated at least 6 feet away from one another.

In other NFL news:

  • Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said the league’s competition committee will speak this weekend to finalize its recommendations for on-field rule changes. Owners are scheduled to vote on all rule changes during an in-person meeting currently scheduled for May 19-20 in Marina del Rey, California.

  • Pash said the NFL remains committed to playing its full slate of five international games in 2020 — four in London and one in Mexico City — pending the approval of medical and governmental officials in those countries.

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