NFL needs to make changes to stop increase in COVID-19 cases

November 16, 2020 — by Neeti Badve

The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers debated postponing their Thursday Night Football game on Nov. 5 due to positive COVID-19 reports on both sides. 

Yet the game continued as planned. The infected players and team members they were in close contact with were merely placed on the reserve list, affecting star players like 49ers wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk and Green Bay running back Jamaal Williams. 

These COVID-positive players were part of a larger trend. Earlier in October, the Tennessee Titans made headlines when 13 players and 11 personnel tested positive. Despite these cases, the NFL still proceeded with the Titans’ regular game that week and allowed the team to practice Sunday afternoon when their Week 4 game was postponed. 

Clearly, the way the NFL is currently handling the pandemic is not working. 

Everyone watching and playing knew the risks of having a regular season during a deadly pandemic. The NBA Bubble model would never work in a league with 32 teams and more than 60 players and faculty traveling together at all times. Players can’t wear masks when they play because they are breathing so hard (in-helmet masks are an option but can impact play performance), and most on the sidelines are maskless as well. 

Coaches wear them half-heartedly, not even covering their noses, and then take them off to yell at officials. Some wear face shields without masks underneath, which is completely ineffective.

Currently, teams are required to test their players daily, and if a test is positive, they are not allowed to enter any NFL facility or stadium. Postponing games is the last thing the NFL wants to do because of its highly inflexible weekly schedule, so multiple teams this year have had to take earlier byes than they would have liked to due to postponed games. Fans and teams alike are rightfully unhappy. 

Even so, many fans seem to believe that COVID-19  doesn’t affect the NFL the same way as it does the outside world. When players are placed on the pandemic-reserve list, the first reaction seems to be “Oh no, they’re out the next game” rather than “Oh no, he could potentially be permanently affected or even die because of a deadly virus.” 

While the only solution to stop cases altogether would be to stop the season, a potential solution for the increasing number of cases would be a quasi-bubble. 

In the regular season, a division of teams within an NFL conference would play each other, another division within the same conference and a division in the opposing conference. The current season is unfolding this way, and that means multiple teams are exposed to each other at all times. 

A quasi-bubble would mean only two divisions in the same conference would play each other. In this way, exposure is limited, and games can still continue. It’s the best of both worlds.

Team members would still need daily testing, but overall, there would be a significant reduction of cases and higher security. The only way this could work, however, is if the NFL and the multi-billionaire owners pulling the strings are willing to change the current schedule. 

2020 has been a year of compromises, and it’s time the NFL makes its own.