- The NFL has already cut the 2020 preseason schedule from four down to two games.
- The NFL Players Association would like to scrap the exhibition game schedule completely.
- There are still major issues to be resolved including the number of preseason games and COVID-19 testing protocols.
At some point we’ll be able to write and talk about actual sports. Not speculation on when leagues will start playing again, not announcements of event cancellations and not tedious negotiations between players and owners over health and safety protocol. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. There is hope on the horizon as the NHL and MLB look prepared to actually play some games. For the other major sports countless questions remain.
The biggest questions now concern the National Football League. From the outset, the NFL had maintained an external posture of ‘business as usual’ while they prepared a variety of contingency plans behind closed doors. The hope originally was that the COVID-19 pandemic would be in the rear view mirror by the start of the 2020 regular season. That clearly won’t be the case meaning the league and its member teams have plenty of things to figure out.
The primary issue on the table at the moment is the preseason. There are a number of individual components that need to be negotiated between players and owners, not the least of which is the number of preseason games. The NFL has already cut the preseason schedule from four games down to two. The Players Association would like to eliminate preseason play altogether. There are also issues related to COVID-19 testing still to be settled and clearly those will be a big deal during the forthcoming NFL preseason and regular season.
The NFL and NFLPA do have part of the preseason framework agreed upon. On Tuesday, the two sides reached agreement on team travel as part of a broader negotiation on safety protocols. Pro Football Talk reported the scope of the eight page agreement:
The sections of the detailed protocols focus on the rules for traveling by plane and bus, PPE use, disinfection of hotel rooms, airlines, buses, equipment, and luggage, rules for hotel employees and bus drivers, food service standards, and physical distancing requirements. The protocols also allow for discipline to be imposed in the event that club employees knowingly and materially fail to follow the protocols.
Highlights include mandatory masks for all members of the traveling party, limitations on the size of the traveling party (no more than 110 non-players), and no buffets.
The eight-page document illustrates how unusual the 2020 season will be, and travel is just one aspect of it.
The website also made the good point that the existence of a travel document strongly suggests that there will be a preseason. It does not, however, mean that preseason games will be played.
NFLPA President JC Tretter isn’t especially happy with the league’s approach to the forthcoming season. He’s of the opinion that the league has not provided a ‘medical reason’ for insisting on two preseason games. The NFL has insisted that the games are necessary to evaluate rosters as well as to ‘beta test’ travel and safety protocol:
“Every decision this year that prioritizes normalcy over innovation, custom over science or even football over health, significantly reduces our chances of completing the full season”
“We don’t want to merely return to work and have the season shut down before we even get started,” Tretter wrote. “The NFLPA will do its part to advocate for player safety. We will continue to hold the NFL accountable and demand that the league use data, science and the recommendations of its own medical experts to make decisions. It has been clear for months that we need to find a way to fit football inside the world of coronavirus. Making decisions outside that lens is both dangerous and irresponsible.”
Pro Football Talk also reported that a major issue remains the ability of players to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.