As the regular season winds into the home stretch, now at the third quarter pole and only four games left to play, discussions are heating up over just what the postseason is going to look like. Barring something catastrophic over the coming weeks, the format is known—seven teams per conference, with three wildcards and a bye week for the top seeds.
Where the teams will be? That’s up for discussion. And it’s beginning to sound as though it’s going to come down to the NFLPA. The NFL, at least it seems, is increasingly coming around to adopting some variation of a ‘bubble’ philosophy in which playoff teams are kept in a generally controlled area. But the Players Association is less confident about this.
While the NFL has already shot down the idea of an NBA-like one-location bubble, as commissioner Roger Goodell said recently, they are giving serious consideration, for example, to evolving into ‘local bubbles’, in which teams stay in a hotel in the leadup to a game, and movement in and out of the building—and who is allowed around players—would be strictly monitored.
“There’s been no decision about what to do”, said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. “The thing I would add there is everything we’re going to do is going to be data-driven. We’re still looking at an incidence rate that’s extremely low. We’re looking at a positivity rate that’s extremely low. That last factor of the amount of virus that’s in a local jurisdiction is the other piece that we’re going to have to pay close attention to. We’ll make the best decision at the time based on all the data”.
But, of course, what the league is more concerned about than incidence rates and infection rates is outbreaks, and they have already had a few of them this year, most notably the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens, and frankly, they can’t be certain as to how to avoid them. They have tightened up the Covid-19 protocols on a near-weekly basis, but have they don’t enough? They wouldn’t be talking about bubbles if they were convinced that they had.
“Our players have wives and kids at home that they want to see”, said Browns center J.C. Tretter, the president of the NFLPA. “It’s been a tough year from a mental health perspective for our players — the feeling of isolation, of not being able to see people, to see their friends, to see their family. To further ask guys to stay away from their young children and their families for potentially six weeks, that’s a big ask and that has ramifications outside of the game of football”.
It is a big ask, but the NBA and the NHL both did it. And most players had family with them inside of the bubble. Talking about seeing friends right now is probably not helping his argument, however. A billion-dollar industry is on the line. Steve can wait until the season is over to hang out.