There has been a lot of gloom and doom when it comes to the coronavirus and sports. While NASCAR has been able to get underway, and has even begun to allow small numbers of fans to attend their events in-person, it’s much easier to practice social distancing in an individual sport—with all individuals in their own vehicles. Football is, uh, a little different.
Nevertheless, in spite of all of the recent reports about NFL players getting tested positively for the virus and colleges shutting down practices in order to help contain the spread of positive cases on their own campus, the league continues to remain resilient that the season will be played, according to Mike Florio, who reported a month and a half ago that there was only an “extremely small” chance the season could be in jeopardy.
Over the weekend, he went back to his same sources to get a feeling on whether or not things have changes, as many areas of the country begin to see new peaks, daily new case totals around 25,000, and hospitalizations on the rise.
“The optimism comes in large part from the league’s understanding as to how the virus is most commonly spread”, he writes. “Confined spaces, where droplets can hang in the air and invade eyes and noses pose far more problems than open spaces. That’s how the league navigates the potentially awkward juxtaposition of players keeping their distance inside a facility or a locker room and a dog pile of up to 22 bodies in the middle of a football field”.
He cited one source as speculating that, for example, the rash of positive tests seen at Clemson and at other universities was likely to have occurred in a weight room or something similar, and the source believes that the NFL will have much more effective protocols, and a population much more informed and motivated to take the proper precautions.
Also talked about is the likely outcome for athletes should they become infected. Even as we have already seen, most of the reported cases in the NFL have included players who had little or no symptoms. I don’t believe any single NFL player has even been hospitalized at any point.
But the sources acknowledge that coaches could be another matter. Many of them are only former athletes at best, some in their 60s and 70s and with significant health problems. There is some acknowledgement that some coaches may decline to coach under these conditions with a mind on their health.
Despite the optimism about the season taking place overall, Florio says that his sources are continuing to cool on the notion that they will be able to conduct games with fans in attendance. “The temptation to swing the doors open and allow risks to be assumed and reduce capacity where needed with staggered arrivals and departures”, he wrote, “quite possibly will yield to political and public-heath considerations that could make it more prudent to pass on playing with fans”.
It would be an unusual experience to watch football without fans, something that many players have already commented on. But it would be much more unusual to go without football during the Fall, so frankly it’s an easy tradeoff.