As we’ve gotten deeper into the MLB season and the NFL’s own begins to loom on the horizon, we have been hearing more and more about plans for what the postseason might look like in ways that are distinct from the plans that these leagues have in place to conduct their regular season schedules.
Both leagues have made proposals entertaining the idea of playing the postseason in a ‘bubble’ environment in a manner similar to that which the NHL and the NBA have used successfully as they look to complete their seasons, which were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The MLB has experienced three different teams registering in-season positive cases that have required them to shut down temporarily and postpone games. There was a point at which the league commissioner threatened that the entire season would have to be shut down if things got any worse. This likely promptly the change in tune in suddenly being open to the postseason bubble, which the NFL is now adapting to as well.
Over the weekend, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was also asked for his thoughts about that possibility, of the NFL conducting the postseason schedule, which this year would expand to 14 teams, seven in each conference, with three wildcard seeds apiece.
“I’m definitely not opposed to it”, he said. “I’m not opposed to anything that’s going to aid us through this process. It’s just, we’ve got so many battles to fight between now and then, I think it’s kind of fruitless to engage in that type of discussion from an opinion standpoint. We’ve got more pressing challenges that lie ahead, like traveling in Week One that probably need our attention”.
As previously written, the league has had no positive cases among players between the testing period of August 12-20, with more than 20,000 tests administered, even though there was a brief scare when a contamination error triggered 77 false positives over the weekend that were later confirmed negative.
But the story will be different once teams leave their training camp environments and start playing games against other squads and are spending time on the road—even playing in front of fans, depending upon the regulations governing that particular stop.
The MLB had a clean track record through its preseason schedule, but they’ve had three incidents since regular season play opened. Can the NFL do better? They’d better hope so, because they can’t make up games with doubleheaders the way they can in baseball.
While playing the postseason in a bubble is certainly a proposal that the league is right to consider, the hope is obviously that, by the time that discussion becomes relevant, it would seem unnecessary. If the league makes it to, say, December without incident, I can’t imagine them adopting that format rather than proceeding as normal.