TodayApril 15, 2022

Will you ever drive to a football game again?

Corona Virus takes football as a victim

The thought of driving your car to a football stadium to watch a football game seems completely foreign to anyone right now. Due to begin in September 2020, the upcoming NFL season is already in doubt. With just five months until games are set to kick-off, commentators and sports fans are speculating about how the season could be adjusted to allow matches to continue. 

If teams are unable to take the field, they won’t be the only pro athletes affected. As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread around the world, leagues, associations, and clubs have been forced to postpone or cancel numerous tournaments. 

While officials maintain that the NFL season is still scheduled to begin on September 10, contingency plans are already being discussed. To find out how your team could be affected, take a look at how the NFL might modify the 2020 season in response to COVID-19…

NFL Draft Held Virtually

The annual NFL draft is a major event in the sporting calendar. Held over three days, it offers burgeoning stars the opportunity to start living their dreams. For the first time ever, plans for the draft have been amended so that it can be held in private, with social distancing and shelter-in-place the norm of the day. 

Instead of a star-studded event in Las Vegas, this year’s draft will take place behind closed doors. Not even club personnel are permitted to gather in one location, which means players, agents, and managers will be communicated in real-time via conference calls and video chat as the draft takes place. 

Fortunately, fans will still be able to watch the draft as it happens. Taking place from April 23 – April 25, three US networks will have coverage of the event. What’s more – the NFL draft is still scheduled to be shown on a variety of streaming services, including YouTube TV, Sling TV, and Hulu Plus Live TV. 

While the draft may be going ahead as scheduled, the format will certainly have an impact on the usual anticipation that accompanies it. Although the majority of fans will be watching the draft in the same way as any other year – on TVs, phones, and laptops – the lack of a live audience will be a reminder of the impact that coronavirus is having on the sports world. 

Pre-Season Cancelled? 

In comparison to other sports, the NFL has been relatively lucky in terms of timing. Already in the off-season by the time COVID-19 hit the US hard, no major games or events have been canceled or abandoned within the country. In fact, the National Football League is the only major sports league in the United States not to have suspended play due to the pandemic.  

However, this doesn’t mean the NFL isn’t already feeling the effects of the pandemic. As club facilities remain closed and players are unable to train as they normally would, pre-season activities are being brought to a halt. 

It is believed that one-to-one training has been underway but, as the crisis worsens, even these sessions are in jeopardy. For most players, maintaining peak fitness levels now means training in isolation. Fortunately, access to private training areas and impressive home gyms means players are able to stay in top shape. 

In terms of the long term season, however, a lack of pre-season training could have a significant impact if or when the season does get underway. As the ultimate team sport, football relies on players to work cohesively against their opponents. With players currently unable to strategize or rehearse plays, their teamwork could take a hit when they take to the field. 

Does NFL 2020 To Be Postponed? 

The inaugural game might be 20 weeks away, but the mid-term impact of coronavirus could still be widespread by the time September rolls around. If so, the NFL may be under pressure to postpone the season until it can be started safely.

Many other leagues and associations have been forced to take similar measures, both in the US and around the world. The MLB has already postponed its 2020 season, which was due to get underway on March 26, while NHL goal leaders and teammates are also out of action until further notice. Similarly, the XFL’s 2020 debut season has been brought to an abrupt end amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and the 2019-2020 NBA season may not be completed following a postponement. 

Of course, these respective seasons were already underway when coronavirus took hold. In some cases, players were awaiting test results on the eve of matches and games, which meant swift decisions had to be made. For the NFL, the timing has prevented any rushed decisions from having to be taken thus far. 

Another major advantage for the NFL is its relatively short season, compared to many other sports. Usually played over just 17 weeks, the entire season could be condensed into an even shorter timeframe if it has to be. 

Postponing or canceling a major league may have seemed unthinkable just a few short months ago, but the far-reaching effects of coronavirus have been unprecedented in modern history. As the virus has swept around the globe at unrelenting speed, no industry has been left unaffected. 

While it’s unlikely that the NFL will consider canceling the 2020 season altogether, it is almost inevitable that some changes to the planned schedule will have to be made. With summer sports events already being pushed back to provisional dates in fall and winter, the chances of the NFL going ahead as planned are increasingly slim. 

Matches Could Be Played Behind Closed Doors

In an effort to keep the season on track, NFL games could be played in the absence of fans. While the suggestion is a controversial one, it may be the only way for the season to go ahead, depending on the longer-term effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

One of the strategies currently being used to slow the spread of the virus is social distancing and self-isolation. As such, any large gatherings have been banned while the outbreak is ongoing. Although there is hope that the nation will have returned to normal well before September, hosting large scale events may remain inadvisable or even against government directives – we just don’t know yet. 

With the largest NFL stadiums regularly welcoming 80,000+ fans to each game, hosting such events so soon as a global pandemic may seem unwise. While senior scientists, medics and researchers will be advising the government and league organizers, playing NFL games behind closed doors may be the only way for the season to be played on time

However, players have already expressed their dismay at playing to empty stalls and bleachers. The rallying cry of tens of thousands of fans has an immeasurable impact on a team’s performance. If players are forced to take to the field without fans in attendance, it will no doubt have an impact on play. 

In reality, organizers may have other reasons for wanting to push forward with the season, regardless of whether fans can attend games. As in many other major sporting leagues, multi-million dollar contracts rest on the games going ahead. With many teams, and the NFL itself, already under contract to advertisers and TV networks, playing behind closed doors may be a wiser move than delaying or canceling the season completely. 

Playing NFL games without fans present may be a viable way to begin the season, fulfill existing contracts, and maintain the schedule, but it is not yet confirmed whether this will be a safe alternative. Each team may only have 11 players on the field at any one time, but any NFL game is a large event, regardless of whether fans are in attendance. 

With 48 active players per team, along with swathes of medical personnel, fitness coaches, managers, officials, reporters and press, even games played behind closed doors will inevitably involve hundreds of people being in close physical proximity to one another. If government directives continue to advise social distancing into September, it seems unlikely that the NFL and other team sports leagues could successfully overcome this barrier. 

2020 Sports Calendar Torn Up

Although the NFL has yet to announce any changes to the season, it seems unlikely that the NFL 2020 season will escape the impact of COVID-19. Despite assurances that the season is still due to go ahead, on time, and with fans in attendance, the US has yet to face the peak of the pandemic. With infection rates still rising, it remains impossible to plan how, when, and if the sports calendar can resume. 

As the crisis continues, players, managers, and officials are focused on the physical and emotional wellbeing of the country as a whole. In addition to financially supporting those in the industry who are unable to work due to isolation directives, many clubs and teams are donating generously to relief funds created to help people in need due to coronavirus. 

What’s in no doubt, however, is the unifying and morale-boosting effect sports has on communities, neighborhoods and the nation as a whole. With this in mind, finding a way for the season to get safely underway remains a top priority for the NFL, its teams and its players.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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