When coronavirus first took hold of the world back in March, professional sports leagues across the world shut down. Many of us longed for teams to root for as we sat in our homes but nothing was to happen for months. Finally, in June, plans emerged from the NBA for a bubble approach to COVID and that they planned to continue their season. The NHL followed with a similar plan, and it seemed like these major sports leagues were going to be able to continue safely. However, most people’s eyes were still set on the NFL kickoff in September. The NFL, unlike most professional leagues, finished their season before COVID and the world wanted to see how they would prepare for the 2020-21 season.
Starting in early July, the NBA began its bubble plan to finish its season. They made a 170 million dollar investment to create an isolated training and game environment in Walt Disney World, Orlando and invited 22 teams to participate. All events were run behind closed doors and no team members or trainers were allowed in or out. When the plan was initiated, it was met with many mixed feelings, especially from players. Many players referred to it as a prison sentence and others said it took a toll on their mental health. However, doubts about the system were silenced when the entire season and playoffs (July 22 – October 11) finished with zero positive cases. With such a successful process, some believed that other sports leagues should follow suit, the NFL included.
The NFL, however, opted for a system that relied less on isolation and more on testing and distancing. Understanding the higher risk of this system, the league allowed teams to expand their rosters to include a new reserve/COVID-19 list that could be tapped if active players tested positive. Players were required to be tested and would be removed from the active roster if they tested positive for coronavirus. Before they would be cleared to return, players would have to undergo increased symptom monitoring, eight days of daily virus testing, and present a second negative test within twenty-four hours of an initial negative test. Other measures the league has initiated include: playing games in empty stadiums or with limited capacity and requiring all personnel members to wear masks on sidelines. To ensure that individuals and teams follow the proper safety measures, the NFL is also implementing fines and forfeiture of games as an option for punishments.
As we near the middle of the season, we are starting to see the effectiveness of the NFL plan. For now, the results seem to be promising, especially considering team rosters and personnel include more than 9,000 people. To date, two organizations, the Titans, and the Patriots, have had significant outbreaks within their team. The Patriots had more than five cases and the Titans had nearly twenty. As a result, games have been rescheduled and fines are likely on the way.
I think we all hope that these early season cases will help the league improve their systems and that more cases can be kept at bay. While the statistics may seem a bit frightening, let’s be glad that football and other professional sports have found a way to be back for the time being. Go Hawks!