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“We’re prepared if we have to do that. We’ve obviously gone through work on that basis with teams,” Goodell told Peter King of NBC Sports. “There will be potential competitive inequities that will be required this season because of the virus and because of the circumstances that we wouldn’t do in other years. That’s going to be a reality of 2020. If we feel like we have an outbreak, that’s going to be driven by medical decisions—not competitive decisions.”
While the NFL is in less danger of postponed games than Major League Baseball because of its once-a-week schedule, an outbreak could lead to games being pushed back or canceled. There are several ways the league could reconfigure the schedule on the fly to accommodate an extra week to the regular season for makeups; this is a situation that will remain up in the air until the league is put in such a situation.
By not “bubbling” its players and staff like the NBA and NHL, the NFL could be headed for an inevitability of players testing positive for COVID-19 as the season progresses. The key to the NFL successfully continuing its season will be limiting outbreaks and making those diagnoses isolated.
Teams have largely done an excellent job during the preseason, which has essentially been 32 pseudo-bubbles. Players are also incentivized to avoid high-risk activities because they could be putting their salaries on the line if found to be engaging in dangerous behavior.
The NFL season will be dependent on a group of about 2,000 players, along with coaches, staff and their families all practicing personal responsibility over a six-month period. The contact-heavy nature of football also makes outbreaks more likely, especially between position groups. The NFL is invested heavily in testing and contact tracing, but the lack of a bubble leads to a higher chance a team will have a widespread outbreak and have to postpone a game.
The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals of MLB both had to go more than a week without games earlier this season after an outbreak. At the very least, it’s almost certain practice schedules will be interrupted after positive tests, which could hurt a team’s preparation.