NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell left open the possibility of extending the regular season and moving the date of the Super Bowl as the league deals with schedule changes because of COVID-19.
On a call with reporters Tuesday, Goodell said “flexibility is going to be critical” as the NFL weighs trying to complete its original 17-week schedule on time against putting players’ and coaches’ health first.
On Sunday, five weeks into the season, the league adjusted the future schedule for eight games, and more adjustments might require adding at least an 18th week to the season. That possibility has been discussed for months. But the league won’t yet make a decision on that or whether Super Bowl LV will need to be rescheduled from Feb. 7 in Tampa, Fla.
“If there was one consistent theme to our season, it is flexibility and adapting,” Goodell said. “We will have flexibility to be able to complete our season with the Super Bowl. That’s the goal. We are all focused on that — but to do it safely. That’s the critical component. We want to make sure every decision we’re making is based on safety and make sure we can complete the season in a way we’re all proud of.”
NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said putting teams into playoff bubbles is another option still on the table, though he indicated the league doesn’t feel it’s the right course of action at this time.
Sills spoke of the possibility of COVID-19 being introduced into the bubbles through service workers, security and other personnel who must come and go, noting the league still would have to implement the safety measures they’re already taking because of those risks. He also noted the emotional toll being in the bubble could take on players and staff, especially during the holidays, as a reason the league has shied away from such action so far.
“Something that is not discussed when people talk about a bubble is the human and the emotional and behavioral health toll that takes on people,” Sills said. “Imagine any one of us being sequestered away from our families, all of our loved ones, for three, four or five months on end. That’s a really significant stress point. I think we have to acknowledge that is just as much of a health and safety consideration as is COVID infection.”
Sills said the NFL has had about 100 positive cases among players, coaches and staff since training camp began, with one significant outbreak among 24 Tennessee Titans players and staff members and another moderate outbreak with four New England Patriots players added to the COVID-19/reserve list. The Chicago Bears have had one positive test during the regular season — practice squad offensive lineman Badara Traore on Saturday.
“Largely our strategies have been very effective in mitigating spread among team members,” Sills said, “and we’ve kept isolated one and two cases and avoided the large outbreak and spread.”
Still, in the wake of the recent Titans and Patriots outbreaks, the NFL adjusted COVID-19 protocols, including adding PCR testing on game days. Follow-up point-of-care tests previously were the only testing done before games.
The league also will be conducting video reviews of team facilities to ensure they are following proper protocols. And they will identify certain “high-risk” close contacts to individuals who tested positive and require they isolate for five days.
“As one of our team personnel put it with a good illustration, (we need) to make sure that a campfire does not turn into a forest fire,” Sills said.
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