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Imagine this: the NFL season starts in September. Orders to stay at home across the country have been "miraculously" suspended, as a particular energy broker would say. The stadium is packed. The home team wins. And days later, the contact tracking device at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the NFL stadium near you is Ground Zero for another major coronavirus outbreak that costs many lives.
Who is responsible for this?
If you thought about the legal dispute that led to fan deals a few years ago from a canceled Pro Football Hall of Fame game (poor pitch) or before that, it bothered Super Bowl XLV customers (unfinished seats), just think of the challenges ahead if the NFL runs to open the gates to full houses this season and the worst scenarios unfold.
Certainly, there could be warnings warning people at high risk to stay away from stadiums, even if there were apparently healthy people under 50 who succumbed to COVID-19. And no, that doesn't suggest that NFL owners would be more responsible than any other business owner if a consumer catches a cold, flu or coronavirus while on the premises.
However, the NFL, the country's most popular and thriving sporting entity, takes responsibility in the form of its reputation in the sleeves.
Open very, very early, Roger Goodell and the NFL – which has publicly stated that it is still planning a full season that starts on time, while backstage discussions ponder contingencies – risk a huge downfall.
In other words: are you ready to play football in the studio?
Will NFL football in 2020 have to be played in front of cameras in empty stadiums? (Photo: Jeff Roberson, AP)
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The NFL is weeks, perhaps months, from having to make a decision on how to proceed with the next season, as the debate rages over what measures – including generalized and rapid tests – need to be taken before governors reopen their states. The NFL also has the benefit of watching how other leagues with more pressing deadlines will try to return, in the context of President Donald Trump's insistence on reopening the nation and restarting sports competition.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the experts on Trump's coronavirus task force, endorsed a philosophy that can be linked to one of the NFL contingencies during a Snapchat show this week. Fauci suggested hosting college football players in hotels, testing them frequently "and just letting them play the season".
This is the "biome" approach that I certainly cannot see happening with the NFL.
However, I can certainly see football in the studio – organizing games at NFL stadiums without fans – as perhaps the only way to save the season. The league's contingencies include playing a truncated season – maybe 12 games, maybe 14, instead of the regular season's list of 16 games. But that would represent, say, California (home of the current NFC 49ers champion plus the Rams and Chargers, the future hosts of SoFi Stadium) prohibiting large meetings while Florida allows?
Interestingly, Kirk Cousins, quarterback of the Vikings, said this week it would be "refreshing" to play while you’re not in front of the fans in the midst of the typical NFL stadium environment. Strange word. And the opposite of the sentiment that the NBA megastar, LeBron James, expressed a few weeks ago, when saying that he did not want to play without fans. The cousins' point, however, was that players can easily adapt to an environment without fans – like what happens regularly in the field of practice.
For decades, the NFL has been considered "a TV sport", with probably more than 90% of NFL fans never having actually watched a game. You know, traffic, ticket costs, convenience – replays at Jerry World are as good or better than those in your living room. But it is difficult to recreate the internal bathroom experience … unless you rent a set.
Well, in NFL101 – the season after the NFL100 campaign, which paid homage to the rich history, traditions and even leather helmets -, we can have an appearance of what the league product will look like in the future.
Only the future is now, as George Allen used to say.
The virtual draft next week, with Goodell announcing choices from his basement (the supposedly luxurious basement of his mansion), it could just be a warm-up act for a TV-only season that could be on the horizon.
The ratings for the draft next week are likely to go over the limit, especially when considering that each of the last two drafts has broken the viewing record. With the current scarcity of sports – Thursday was the 36th day without sports – the "live" draft will be a rare live event.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour on Thursday announced that will resume competition in mid-June with the Charles Schwab Challenge at The Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas – no spectators. Except other developments (such as Major League Baseball adoption of a possible plan to play in Arizona and Florida, or in the NBA and NHL to resume their seasons in some way), the men's golf circuit could become the first to start again after the pandemic interruptions.
And it can also provide an omen of how the NFL season will need to be consumed, attracting large numbers of TV, I suspect … while a coronavirus vaccine is still in development.
Obviously, the league will draw on the advice of medical experts as it progresses into the next season. However, it is certain that the reopening – and this would include the reopening of the team headquarters, mini-fields, training camp – generalized and rapid tests for coronavirus needs to be in place.
Rams center Brian Allen was the first active player test positive for COVID-19, following Santos coach Sean Payton being the only known trainer to have a positive test. Add to that the Denver Broncos & # 39; Von Miller test positive. If such cases occurred after the NFL reopened … well, we can't forget how the NBA became the first league to close.
A "studio NFL" may no longer prevent coronavirus cases, but I assume that the potential for a major outbreak would be significantly reduced, while the possibilities for screening would increase.
They are not just players. Playing a game in a stadium (for network transmission) without fans would still involve between 500 and 750 people, including players, coaches, support staff, stadium operations, television and media staff. Obviously, there would be a system for testing and release. But, conceivably, this could be done.
And it may represent the NFL's best chance to present its product safely this season to large audiences.
Follow US TODAY Sports NFL columnist Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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