National Football League training camps are still a few weeks away from opening but a “Hail Mary” pass has to be thrown soon.
These are desperate times for the NFL.
Throughout this COVID-19 outbreak the league has continued with business as usual. Maybe that was because other pro leagues such as the NBA or Major League Baseball were going to start up again and the NFL wanted to maintain enthusiasm.
Or maybe league officials were showing arrogance, but it’s time to see the game plan.
I’m not an infectious disease expert, a top league administrator or head coach, but I’ve played and coached enough football to know that it appears nearly impossible to complete a quality 2020 season without a vaccine.
Every day now the United States seems to set a record for positive cases, and it makes one wonder how the league can control the virus in a contact sport such as football.
We’re not talking baseball here. We’re talking mano-a-mano, in-your-face, down-and-dirty, gritty, clobber-each-other football. The masks worn in this game certainly won’t prevent infections from spreading.
There has been talk about keeping social distancing. Teammates might have lockers 6 feet apart and there will be similar distances between players in meeting rooms. There also has been speculation about alternating practices with offensive players coming in during the morning and defensive players in the afternoon to cut down on the interactions.
But that’s not what sports, especially football, is about.
Team chemistry is built from the bonding sessions in the locker and weight rooms as well as endless amounts of meeting sessions.
Physical contact is key for the development of a team. Walk-through practices have their place but players only get better through contact drills and facing the same speed of the game that they will see on Sunday afternoons.
Timing and knowing how the player next to you will react in certain situations are vital. The bottom line: they got to hit.
And when that happens the chances of contracting the virus increases especially in 2-hour daily practices or 3-hour games.
These players won’t quarantine themselves outside the facility. They are young men, in some cases 22 or 23 year olds, making millions of dollars a season. They want to hit the streets. They want to be social. They are going to party.
And after one night, one player might eventually contaminate many others.
There is also the potential problem with specialists such as kicker Justin Tucker, punter Sam Koch or a long snapper getting the virus. In a bind Tucker or Koch could do both but a lot of teams don’t have that luxury. A game winner such as Tucker can’t be replaced.
NFL teams also have to be concerned about travel and overnight stays in hotels. It’s one thing to play a game in a well-managed state such as Maryland, but does Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti want his team travelling to a national hot spot such as Texas or Florida?
There has been a lot of talk about trimming training camp rosters from 90 to 80 or 75 players. That sounds good in theory unless a team gets hits hard by the virus later.
The NFL gave an indication of the seriousness of the virus problem when it recently canceled the first and fourth games of the preseason. From what I’ve heard, there is a possibility the first four games of the regular season could be called off as well. At this point, regular-season games might look a lot like preseason contests.
There is a belief that a lot of the NFL players will be able to handle COVID-19 because they are well-trained and conditioned. But the virus has hit the African American community hard and the NFL is predominantly Black with some players having underlying health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.