No April Fool Pranks Here

If you came here expecting to find an April Fool prank, let me apologize in advance.

The NFL owners have officially ratified the 14-team playoff format for 2020.  The 2 “extra games” for the wildcard round this year will be televised by NBC and CBS and the format will be a TV triple-header on both Saturday and Sunday.  When the original idea was floated, I wondered if the NFL would consider putting one of the wildcard games in a Monday night slot simply to extend by a day the intense focus on the league and its playoffs.  So, that settles that … or does it?

The NFL used the opportunity of announcing this playoff change to make a few other announcements:

  • The NFL expects to play a full season in 2020 starting the week after Labor Day.
  • The NFL Draft will go as scheduled on April 23-25.  The coronavirus has changed the event from a Las Vegas extravaganza expected to draw hundreds of thousands of fans to the live event to a TV only event.  All the details for that telecast have not been finalized yet, but that’s what’s gonna happen.
  • The NFL “has begun planning” to establish rules that would “allow teams to conduct virtual offseason programs”.  No; I have no idea what that is all about.
  • The NFL is trying to develop contingency plans in case some games need to be played at a venue other than the originally scheduled venue.
  • The London Games are still the NFL’s “Plan A” and the schedule will be released on May 9th specifying those dates and the teams involved.

I hope every one of these announcements comes to pass without even a minor speed bump along the way.  However, I would like to offer a minor cautionary note as provided by Dr. Anthony Fauci when he has been asked to project the future course of the coronavirus pandemic:

“We don’t set the timetable; the virus sets the timetable.”

Earlier this week, I said that the game of football as we know it would be an effective vector to spread the highly contagious coronavirus.  The plans announced by the NFL yesterday seem to me to sit on a fundamental belief that something will be done to mitigate either the spreading of the virus and/or something will be available to treat effectively those who contract the virus and that either or both of those things will happen in the next 3 months.  For the record, I certainly hope they are correct.

Now, even if all of this comes to pass – paging the NFL’s fairy godmother – there are likely to be dislocations in the NFL games for this season besides potential schedule uncertainties and empty stadiums.  The fact is that the NFL has directed all teams to “postpone” all their offseason program activities.  Every team has already missed weeks of strength and conditioning activities and weeks of film study and playbook familiarity.  The mantra of coaches for decades has been that performance in the regular season flows directly from the focus of coaches and players on the offseason activities.  If that is true, then the 2020 season should be a bit haphazard.

Teams with new coaching staffs that are “trying to install a new system” should be at a disadvantage this year.  Quarterbacks taken at the top of the Draft in a few weeks will be expected to play well for the teams that draft them pretty quickly; without film study and OTAs leading up to Training Camp their learning cycle will have to be accelerated indeed.  [Aside:  Training camps should be opening in about 15 weeks.]  Offensive lines that have changed personnel should also be at a disadvantage since effective offensive line play needs choreography and cohesion; those conditions exist when the people playing those positions get to work together.

I hope the announcements made by the NFL yesterday are perfectly accurate.  My guess is that there will need to be some contingency plans inserted into the season along the way and I hope they are all minor tweaks…

I received an email from a reader yesterday that had an idea that I had not contemplated.  It requires a rather dystopian view for the sporting landscape for the rest of 2020, but this is only a gedanken experiment so no harm will come.  Here is the proposition:

  • Suppose the coronavirus forces the cancellation of the entire college football season in 2020.  [Take a deep breath here; exhale.  This is only a “what if” …]
  • How would that affect the NFL Draft in 2021?

The league GMs wanted this year’s Draft pushed back from the dates in late April because they did not get to interview players sufficiently nor did they have time to schedule private workouts.  But they did have a full season of tape to watch to see how players perform on the field.  Now imagine if they had to make decisions without having that game film…  Perhaps there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Finally, let me close today with a Tweet from Brad Rock now retired from the Deseret News:

“This work from home mandate has really cut into my side gig as a porch pirate.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………