Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the NFL is keeping a number of contingency plans in place in the event of the pandemic impacting the season in September.
The NFL has already made significant changes to the offseason. Holding the draft and offseason programs virtually and perhaps most notably cancelling the international series, instead playing those games in the United States. According to Mike Florio of Profootballtalk, there is an “extremely small” chance that the season doesn’t happen, so that could mean games are played without fans, with a limited number of fans or full stadiums.
The biggest potential impediment to playing football will be the availability of adequate and efficient testing, both for football personnel and the general public. Fortunately, it is currently expected that a large quantity of testing kits will be available and that the process will be straightforward. In all likelihood, games behind closed doors could be a theme until a vaccine is found for COVID-19 in every major sport across the globe. But the question is what would behind closed doors action look like?
Several sports have already been experimenting with behind closed doors play, most notably soccer. Germany’s Bundesliga was one of the first major sporting leagues to resume on May 16th, but in order to maintain safety, officials have enforced strict guidelines.
Fredi Bobic, a sporting director for Eintracht Frankfurt, a team based in midwest Germany believes the Bundesliga will set an example for all major sporting leagues to follow suit.
“Everybody will watch the Bundesliga to see how the players are on the field and outside the field. Hopefully they will do it positively. A lot of our colleagues can participate in that if everything works, the handbook, the plan, everything, we can give that to other federations and other sports.” Bobic said in his interview with ESPN.
So what could precautionary measures look like for the NFL in September?
The Bundesliga permitted a maximum of 300 people, including players, staff and officials, to be in or around the stadiums during match days. This list also includes essential media, anti-doping officials, stewards, security, ground staff and ball boys. They all have their temperature checked on arrival. Anyone deemed a risk will be sent home. Although a personnel figure for NFL games will likely be higher, when factoring in a 53 man roster is substantially bigger than eighteen man soccer team. Therefore the number of essential personnel needed could well be closer to the 400 mark.
As part of precautions Bundesliga teams have forked out a whopping €2.2m for 25,000 tests. To comply with government guidelines, players and essential club staff are and will continually be tested twice a week. In the event of a player and/or member of staff testing positive, squads have been forced to go into a two week quarantine as a precaution. Players and staff for the home team arrive in their own personal vehicles, while personnel for the road team arrive in three buses to maintain social distancing.
In an attempt to prevent fans from congregating outside stadiums, German officials pleaded with supporters to respect the guidelines as well as threatening to cancel games in the event of such an incident occurring. The first round of fixtures on May 16th went unscathed and the league will continue to play until the end of June.
Behind closed doors action appears all set to be normality for the meanwhile, Germany’s Bundesliga has the chance to set the precedent for the world and they may just do that.