Earlier during this past weekend, the president held a conference call with league commissioners around the country, which of course included Roger Goodell representing the NFL. The NFL is the largest sports league in the United States, and also is the one that was fortunate to have been in its offseason when the deadly COVID-19 pandemic came into full swing.
During the conference call, in which Donald Trump continued to express optimism about the timeline regarding the return of normality in society, he reportedly said that he believes the NFL should begin its regular season when it is currently scheduled to begin, in the early stages of September.
Whether or not that is realistic remains to be seen, and a critical glimpse into the answer to that question will be what happens over the course of the next couple of weeks, as the United States is expected to enter the apex of the pandemic. Today, 10s of thousands of new cases are diagnosed daily, with over 1000 dead. Even Trump acknowledges that we are projected, even under moderate analyses, to see six-figure fatalities over the life of the pandemic.
The season is next set to begin for another five months, however. At least from where we are currently sitting, that does feel like a lot of time, during which plenty can happen. I’m obviously not even close to an expert on the subject, but I would hope that something like 150 days may be sufficient enough time to allow people to return to society.
But even that wouldn’t necessarily be required to assure the season begins when scheduled. It’s likely that the NFL is already exploring contingencies, the way other leagues are, of, obviously, playing games without fans, but also other options including playing all games in one isolated location.
There are so many logistics that go into trying to start the regular season in September if they are unable to do so under normal circumstances, with teams in their home stadiums packed with fans. That is the vision that Trump has, or at least is hoping for.
“I want fans back in the arenas”, he said at a later press conference discussing his conversation with league leaders. “As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air”.
This is, of course, what everybody wants, but what people want and what is possible are almost routinely at odds with one another. Experts and more local officials remain skeptical, if not pessimistic, about the president’s expectations for the NFL.
The governor of California, for example, said of the idea of an NFL team playing in front of a stadium full of people in September, “I’m not anticipating that happening in this state”. The state is home to three of the league’s franchises. Similarly, the governor of New York said that while he would love to see sports back, “this is not about hopes and dreams and aspirations and what you would like to see”.