To balance a football season during a pandemic, the NFL and NFLPA had to work together in the offseason to ensure players and coaches are safe. In July 2020, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced sweeping rule changes to warrant a safe playing environment. The policies seek to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and address scenarios when outbreaks occur. Here’s what you need to know.
The NFL’s mask policies and COVID-19 rules
All team players, coaches, and staff are required to wear masks traveling to and from games. Likewise, masks are required for all team personnel while in team facilities, with exceptions for players during practice or workouts. During the games, all team coaches and staff members must wear masks in the bench area.
Although there is no requirement for players to wear masks during games, the league strongly recommends it. The NFL is adamant about their mask policy and has already fined multiple organizations and coaches for violating their policy. Lastly, all on-field referees are required to wear a mask during a game.
Testing and player personnel changes
Before the season, the NFL allowed players to opt-out of the season. In those cases, they’d receive a monthly stipend from the league. The new NFL CBA also expanded game-day rosters, practice squad members, and the injured reserve list for the 2020 season, details ESPN. Teams can now place all players who test positive for COVID-19 on the IR list. The expanded rosters ensure teams have enough players on game days in case of an outbreak.
As for testing, both players and coaches receive COVID-19 testing every day throughout the week, except for game-day. In the event of a player testing positive, they’re immediately isolated from the team and begin the quarantine process. Likewise, contract tracing immediately begins to find any personnel who were in close contact with the player.
For asymptomatic players, they can return to the field 10 days after the initial positive or after two consecutive negative tests. For symptomatic players, they must wait 10 days after the initial positive test or 72 hours since they last experienced symptoms.
Both the league and teams have expressed the importance of daily testing, mask-wearing, and social-distancing. Not even halfway through the season, the league has already had to change the schedule to accommodate team outbreaks. It is the last-case scenario to cancel games or extend the NFL season to accommodate schedule conflicts. This is why the NFL is clamping down on its mitigation efforts.
Fans in the stands
Going into the season, the NFL did not have a universal policy on fans in the stadiums. Instead, they are leaving it up to each city to work with local health officials to decide whether if they should allow fans and how many. Although there have been some complaints about “competitive fairness” for some stadiums having fans while others do not, the NFL has allowed stadiums to pump in artificial crowd noise during the games.
Whenever the season began, only a few teams allowed fans into their stadiums. But as the season progresses, teams have slowly allowed fans to re-enter the stadium. However, the crowds have been severely limited to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. While most teams have already let some fans back in the stands, others remain empty. For example, Raider’s owner Mark Davis announced the team would not have fans in the brand-new stadium until the 2021 season, reports the Las Vegas Review.