The Buffalo Bills received the biggest scare among NFL teams on what should have been a sleepy Sunday morning. However, it was Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones, and every serious bettor who should be terrified. That’s because the NFL just learned how easily the most lucrative league in the country can be brought to its knees.
Positive COVID-19 tests suddenly popped up out of nowhere
Several NFL teams either changed start times or canceled practices on Sunday, Aug. 23, because of positive COVID-19 test results that were almost certainly all inaccurate.
The NFL released a statement saying that “several positive results” turned up in virus testing done by a New Jersey lab utilized by multiple teams. The NFL realized that something was amiss because so many teams were affected on the same day, requiring them to follow the prescribed steps to isolate the affected players and conduct contact tracing.
Among the teams informed that they had one or more positive tests:
- Buffalo Bills
- Chicago Bears
- Cleveland Browns
- Detroit Lions
- Green Bay Packers
- Minnesota Vikings
- New England Patriots
- New York Giants
- New York Jets
- Pittsburgh Steelers
The Browns released a statement saying they were notified of positive tests. They initially shut down their training facility and conducted meetings remotely, then resumed practicing later Sunday. The Bears, who confirmed that they had nine false positives, pushed a scheduled morning practice back to the afternoon. The Jets had 10 false positives.
Individual players were not identified. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was one of the players whose Saturday test result came back positive.
“We’re trying to get things figured out and backed practice up an hour,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane told reporters. “We’ve had extra point-of-care testing to help some of the people back in the building. We’ll be missing some players at practice.”
The Bills pushed back practice by an hour while sorting out what was transpiring. Under the NFL protocol, a player needs two negative tests in order to return after receiving a confirmed positive test result.
The Buffalo Bills treated it as a learning experience
The Buffalo Bills treated the confusion over the likely false positives, which led to quarterback Josh Allen and as many as three others being unavailable, as a learning experience.
“This is a good fire drill for our coaches,” general manager Brandon Beane said. “They’ll be missing some guys, some teammates as well. It will give guys a chance to maybe step up at a couple of positions. It gives our coaches a chance (to ask), ‘What if this happened on game day?’”
Asked if the apparent false alarm shakes his confidence in the elaborate procedures in place as the NFL attempts to conduct its season, Beane pointed out that what happened appears to be an anomaly.
“Something went wrong in this lab, and we’ll adjust,” he said.
That might be easier said than done. Prior to Sunday’s scramble, only four players were listed on the NFL’s COVID-19 list after more than 100,000 tests since training camps opened.
Now, a vulnerability has been exposed because there’s a difference between uncertainty in NFL locker rooms on a mid-August weekend after all pre-season games have been canceled and having this happen on the eve of Week 3 in September.
How would the NFL handle a sudden in-season crisis?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has formed a committee of eight former players, coaches, and team executives to help him sort through what to do if a game can’t be played as scheduled this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFL hasn’t finalized its documentation for what it would take to cause a game to not be played as scheduled. The loss of one or two players due to positive tests – even false positives too close to kickoff – presumably wouldn’t do it. However, it would cause chaos for coaches (and bettors) if a starting quarterback became unavailable but the game was played anyway.
The NFL would face all sorts of outrage if the cause was a false positive.