Under normal circumstances, the NFL can do more or less whatever it wants. Given the league’s massive financial might and pop-cultural presence, Roger Goodell and company have plenty of pull. COVID-19, however, doesn’t care about who you are or how much money you can make. The league, it seems, is learning that the hard way.
During Week 4 of the 2020 football campaign, the NFL had to cancel one game and push another back from Sunday to Monday. On Wednesday morning, however, the league received some brutal news about the ongoing struggle against COVID-19.
The NFL has made some adjustments in the face of COVID-19
When the coronavirus truly spread to the United States, the NFL was in the midst of its offseason. While that meant that there weren’t any games to be canceled, it couldn’t stop the league from making some pretty drastic changes.
When the 2020 entry draft rolled around, for example, things moved online. Fans didn’t get to pack the Las Vegas strip and high five after successful picks. Teams made their selections from remote war rooms, and Rodger Goodell presided over the ceremonies from his home office. While the event went off more or less without a hitch, the changes didn’t stop there.
As the season got even closer, the alternations hit closer and closer to home. Players were given the option to opt-out of the 2020 campaign; those who do play are hitting the field in empty, or depending on the location, partially-empty stadiums. Preseason games were also canceled, although most fans didn’t shed a tear about that decision.
Things start getting tricky for the Tennessee Titans
While those changes might seem pretty significant in isolation, they weren’t enough to keep the NFL safe from COVID-19. During Week 4, the league learned that the hard way.
In Tennessee, the Titans suffered an internal COVID-19 outbreak; due to the nature of the coronavirus, that kicked off a chain reaction. The practice facility was closed, and, when Sunday rolled around, the club was unable to play their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers; that game has been moved to Week 7, with the Steeler’s Week 7 game getting pushed to Week 8, which was their scheduled bye week.
The New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs also had their week thrown into disarray, after players on both teams reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. Their game was pushed from Sunday afternoon to Monday night and played in less than ideal circumstances; the Patriots, who were without Cam Newton, flew into Missouri on Monday morning, hit the field, and flew home later that night.
The Tennessee Titans just made the NFL’s COVID-19 crisis even worse
After the Tennessee Titans were unable to hit the field on Sunday, the NFL was hoping that things could return to normal this weekend. The coronavirus, however, had other plans.
As reported by Dianna Russini and Dan Graziano on Twitter, the Titans had new positive test results come in on Wednesday morning; that means they can’t return to practice today and could put this weekend’s game in jeopardy, too. There have also been other reported tests scattered throughout the league, ranging from Las Vegas to New England.
While safety is obviously the foremost issue—if canceling another game keeps more people safe, then it’s the right decision—this scenario has to be reaching nightmare territory for the NFL. The league bet on itself, believing that football could work without a hard bubble; after four weeks, that belief is crumbling by the day.
It’s one thing to have isolated positive tests and cancel one game; the NFL, however, has already passed that point. When you’re looking at multiple cancellations, the entire schedule starts to collapse under its own weight. When teams are taking their field without their starting quarterback and flying into a city on game day, you’re beginning to descend into farce.
At this point, it’s not clear how the NFL season will unfold. It’s safe to say, however, that things are looking worse and worse.