There were 13 NFL games yesterday – following the season opener last Thursday night – and there is some behind-the-scenes action going on today that is very important to the NFL. Twenty-six teams played yesterday; if you consider that each team had 50 players involved that means 1300 men engaged in non-socially distanced activities for about 3 hours. And today the labs that are supposed to do the testing for COVID-19 are probably at work processing the first set of tests after real games.
From what we know now, the major vector for the spread of the coronavirus is aerosol droplets of various sizes that can hover in the air for differing lengths of time. A professional football player – in addition to being a fit and skilled athlete – is an aerosol droplet producing machine. There were epidemiological analyses that attributed the spread of the virus after a choir practice to the exhalation of aerosol droplets from singers in that choir who unknowingly carried the coronavirus. Given the heavy breathing and the violent collisions of an NFL game, I have to imagine that choir practice is the more benign event relative to viral spread.
And so, this week there will be testing and re-testing around the league to see if the NFL’s testing regimen to date has been sufficiently tight so as to keep the virus away from players and coaches who are involved in the games. Just as it is logical to look at an NFL game and identify it as a potential virus super spreader event, it is equally logical to look at an NFL game and assume that if no one involved has the virus to spread then there will be no spreading of the virus.
The Las Vegas Raiders – it is going to take me a while to get used to typing that out on my keyboard – will play their first home game in their new stadium next Monday. Allegiant Stadium cost $2B and according to an announcement from the team, the stadium …
“ … will be the first venue in American pro sports to open as a cashless venue. As part of our ongoing dedication to provide our fans and patrons with a world-class sports and live entertainment experience, and in response to feedback from our most loyal customers, cash will not be accepted as a form of payment at any stadium-controlled parking location or within Allegiant Stadium.”
Transactions in the stadium on Game Days will be done with credit cards, debit cards and/or payment options available on cell phones. In addition, there will be kiosks around the stadium where cash can be converted into prepaid cards which can then be used to purchase food, drink or merchandise. I have no idea if these measures will be important with regard to minimizing viral spread, but they will probably help a bit. From the standpoint of the Raiders and the stadium vendors, this ought to speed up the process of purchasing “stuff” and that might lead to people buying a bit more “stuff”.
Of course, the implementation of these procedures can only happen in real life once fans are present in Allegiant Stadium to see the Raiders play home games. As of this morning, the Raiders will be playing in front of empty seats – or possibly some cardboard cutouts. In that situation there ought not to be many transactions processed via the cashless methods.
Since I am thinking about the world of pro football today, let me suggest that the NFL is going to conduct the 2020 season with a different mindset than in years past. For at least the time since the merger of the AFL and the NFL, the league has worked hard to provide competitive balance. There are rules that try to assure that no team can get a competitive edge on its opponent other than advantages earned by talent or preparation or effort. The slogan, “On any given Sunday…”, may be trite; but it is real to the folks who run the NFL and it is part of attractiveness of the sport.
In 2020, the NFL will have to put player safety and health on a level equal to – and perhaps even greater than – the historical focus on equal competition. It is possible that due to health and safety concerns, every team may not play the same number of games in 2020. If a game must be canceled late in the season due to virus detections, safety and health may have to supersede the competitive “level playing field”. Consider:
- Sometime in early December Team A suffers a COVID-19 outbreak. They need to miss two games in the first two weeks of December.
- Team A will not be able to make up those games within the framework of the season schedule; the BYE Weeks are long gone and there is no way that it is safe or is it competitively fair to expect Team A to play a compressed schedule – – say 4 games in two weeks.
- Teams B and C were the scheduled opponents for those two weeks that team A was “on the shelf”. They too will not be able to make up their missed game AND Teams B and C will have the “advantage” of an extra BYE Week late in the season.
- In a “normal year” that would not be tolerable; in 2020, it may cause a few raised eyebrows followed by a shoulder shrug as the league keeps on keeping on.
The fact that some teams will have reduced numbers of fans in the stands while others play in front of empty seats presents a competitive advantage. Roger Goodell can try to put a pretty face on the situation and say that this is not a big deal, but it is. The Commish and the league do not want to have these different game conditions from stadium to stadium – – but they do not really have an option there. It would be nice for them to admit that there will be different standards for teams in 2020 instead of pretending that “home field advantage” is a myth that has been perpetrated on the public by people interested in gambling on games.
Brad Dickson posted this less-than-optimistic Tweet last Thursday:
“The 2020 NFL season kicks off tonight. I’m really looking forward to the next 12 days until the 2020 NFL season ends.”
Let us hope he is wrong…
Finally, Greg Cote had this note in the Miami Herald over the weekend:
“A bunch of men you’ve never heard of are riding really expensive bicycles in the Tour de France, and it ends next Sunday.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………