Given the state of the world in 2020, nothing is a given. That includes the upcoming NFL season. While Roger Goodell and the rest of the league’s brass have been trying to ensure there’s football this fall, there’s no telling what will actually happen. Even in a best-case scenario, things will surely be a bit different.
While the NFL has already made some changes to the its offseason, those alterations don’t mean much to your average fan. There’s still a possibility, though, that the schedule itself will end up looking quite different.
The NFL has already made several coronavirus-related changes
In most situations, the NFL’s financial and cultural might means that the league can more or less do whatever it wants. The coronavirus, however, doesn’t care who you are or how much clout you have.
While the NFL had time on its side—the Super Bowl took place a little more than a month before the NBA had to suspend its season—the league still had to make some changes. The annual entry draft, which was supposed to be a multi-day party in Las Vegas, had to be moved online.
In recent weeks, the league and the NFLPA have hashed out a few more changes in order to try and play the 2020 season. During training camp, rosters will be capped at 80 players than the usual 90; there won’t be any preseason games this fall, either.
With all of that being said, though, the players who aren’t opting-out of the season have already reported to training camp. While it’s impossible to know what the future holds, the NFL is going to try to get the 2020 season off the ground.
The NCAA dominoes are starting to fall
The NFL, of course, isn’t the only place for football fans to get their fix; there’s also the college game. At the NCAA level, though, the dominoes are already starting to fall.
In June, the Ivy league canceled all fall sports. While the conference isn’t exactly a football powerhouse, other schools have begun to follow suit. UConn recently became the first NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision; the MAC has also scrapped its entire schedule.
Given the logistical concerns of playing college football this fall—Major League Baseball has shown the challenges of playing sports outside of a bubble, and NCAA athletes also have the added issue of living on campus—it seems likely that more schools will follow suit.
“It’s not fair what we’re doing to our coaches and student-athletes,” one long-time Power Five athletic director told Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. “The sooner we can come to a finality, the better.”
“I think it’s inevitable [the season will not be played in the fall],” another veteran Power Five AD added.
The NFL could take over Saturdays if there’s no NCAA football
As any sports fan can tell you, weekends in the fall follow a similar pattern. Saturdays are dominated by college football; on Sunday, the NFL takes center stage. If there’s no NCAA action this fall, though, things could look quite a bit different.
“Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL likely will move games from Sundays to Saturday, if college football doesn’t proceed this season,” Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk reported. “It’s unclear whether the games would be broadcast, streamed, or distributed on a pay-per-view basis, but the league likely would backfill the vacant Saturday windows with NFL content.”
While it’s not clear how the scheduling would work, Florio speculates that the league could follow their own blueprint and treat every week like “the late-season tripleheader the league staged in 2019.”
At this point, though, there’s still plenty of moving parts. Beyond the obvious safety issues, the NCAA still has to cancel football; as of now, it’s not clear if the power conferences are willing to bite the bullet. After that, the NFL “would need a one-year dispensation from the broadcast antitrust exemption,” allowing them to broadcast games on Saturday and Sunday.
It goes without saying that, especially during a pandemic, no one can predict the future. No one knows if we’ll have any football at all this fall or a full slate of NCAA and NFL action. No matter what happens, though, the schedule will probably look different than it ever has before.