As most countries around the world are beginning to work toward reopening many functions of their society, the United States is hoping to lead the charge, and the sports leagues want to be at the forefront—if it’s possible for them to do so. The majority of them were forced to suspend seasons that were already in progress, and they want to finish them, or in the case of the MLB, get them started.
The NFL was fortunate to have been in offseason mode when the coronavirus reached pandemic status, but we have now reached the point of the offseason in which it is affecting the on-field portion of the offseason. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, began conducting its virtual rookie minicamp yesterday.
Still, the NFL has put on a consistent public face about remaining dedicated to being as on-schedule as possible, including releasing the 2020 schedule earlier this week that largely reflects their belief and aspiration that games will be able to be run on-time.
Around the same time, the league office sent a memo to all 32 teams about the first steps in their looking to reopen team facilities. ‘Phase 1’ of that process consists of having every team have a plan put in place and installed that would allow for this to happen at some level, and the league wants these plans to be submitted by May 15.
Now, that is just around the corner, and it does without saying that it doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to see Mason Rudolph and Paxton Lynch (happy now?) throwing balls around to wide receivers by the end of the month at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Teams are also tasked with creating an Infection Response Team, which will be responsible for monitoring the organization’s employees for infections, and tracing the facility for contact exposure in the event that they do have an infection.
The NFL made it clear that it remains steadfast to the everybody-or-nobody approach. If all 32 teams are not able to reopen their facilities at the same time, either due to practical or governmental restrictions, then no team will be permitted to open their doors.
With plans in place by May 15, it will be at that time that the league will try to make a prospective timeline for employees to return to work, and eventually for players to do so as well. The plan calls for about a 50 percent workforce capacity.
There will be more details later this month, with a virtual owners meeting set to be conducted on May 19. But just watching the news, we can probably get a decent sense of when it might be possible for the NFL to really begin to open its doors again.