The NHL and the NBA have had remarkable success conducting a major team sport through the pandemic, going weeks now without a single positive test. The MLB wasn’t nearly so lucky, as they experienced two significant Covid-19 outbreaks within the first couple of weeks of their season.
It got the league to reconsidering their plans. First, they wondered if the season itself was even sustainable, if this was going to continue to crop up. They still know that it won’t. And that is why they are now reportedly considering working toward moving to the NBA/NHL model for the postseason, and conducting that phase of the season in a ‘bubble’ environment.
Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the MLB is considering a bubble approach for the postseason with its expanded 16-team format, writing that the league would likely need at least a three-hub bubble for the wildcard round, before reducing to a two-hub bubble at the next stage. There are a number of different avenues that are exploring and may explore.
So what about the NFL? They have never publicly outright said that they would reject adopting some form of a bubble approach if it were forced upon them due to circumstances. In actuality, there are some teams, or players on those teams, who are incorporating this concept for themselves.
Both the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints have either on a team level or player level taken to hosting their players in a hotel for training camp to keep them in an isolated environment. This was an idea that Dr. Allen Sills seemed open to in the past, and something other teams may explore as well.
According to running back James Conner, however, the Pittsburgh Steelers currently have no plans in this regard. “It hasn’t been anything we’ve talked about”, he told reporters on Wednesday about possibly hosting teams in a hotel for any length of the season.
“We haven’t been paying much attention”, he added, to what other teams are doing. “We’ve been making it work right here at Heinz [Field]. It’s been good. We’ve been keeping it safe here. I’m enjoying it so far. Not a lot of thought went into it, talking about being in a bubble and whatnot. We’re taking all the necessary precautions here at Heinz, and making it work, so it’s been real smooth so far”.
As previously reported, fewer than two percent of all players who reported for training camp tested positive (or even inconclusive) for the coronavirus, which is a lower number than the league was bracing for. But it’s important to remember that players are only beginning contact work now, which greatly increases the chances of spreading the virus between teammates and within a facility.
The NFL has been taking just about any precaution possible short of adopting any level of ‘bubble’ approach to try to keep its players safe, including daily testing, and empowering teams to fine and even suspend players (and other personnel) for reckless behavior related to Covid-19. Hopefully we never have to question this decision.