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A Common Sense Approach to Completing the NFL Season

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Covid has really messed up 2020 and it has led me to write a logistics article I’d never thought in a million years I’d have to write. With the new breakouts around the league that has caused games to be postponed, I came up with a common sense solution to finishing the NFL season while severely lowering the chance of Covid breakouts.

Plan 1: Add a Week 18 and Week 19

This plan needs to happen immediately. The league was already forced to move games to bye weeks and then move around other games to accommodate. It would be a lot simpler to just add two weeks to the end of the season, and start the Wildcard Round on January 23rd, with the Super Bowl being held on February 21st. This wouldn’t really affect the combine (if they even have one) or even free agency (which is also the start of the new league year).

There should be additional rules in place, such as:

  • If a team has a break out, their game is automatically moved to Week 18, their facilities must shut down and all players must isolate until they receive multiple negative tests.
  • If a team has a second break out, their game would then be moved to Week 19 and they would be forced to stay in a hotel and create their own bubble.
  • If a team has a third break out, they would be forced to forfeit that week’s game.

A break-out isn’t when one player has it and the rest of the team is negative; it’s when there are multiple players and personnel/staff that have it and the team doesn’t have it under control.

If Plan 1 fails: Create two bubbles

Create two hub cities:

  • Arizona
  • Indianapolis

AFC teams would be located in Indianapolis and NFC teams would be located in NFC. Both are in states that have been less restrictive against Covid, so those states would allow this to go through.

If the league were to pause the season before Week 5, here’s what they should do:

  • Tell all teams to shut down their facilities and have players isolate. They should then have players go to these hub cities on October 23rd, and then all players would get tested and isolate for 14 days after that. The season would then resume on November 6th, with Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday football. The October 23rd date would allow the NFL just under 3 weeks to set up all testing facilities, create arrangements with hotels and settle all logistic issues.
  • In terms of practices, each team would be allowed a 2 hour time slot each day starting at 8am. The Colts and Cards have 2 practice fields plus the main field (I believe) so they can hold three team practices simultaneously and there would be a rotation of some type for fairness.
  • If there are 16 games per week, then you could play 4 games a day. The AFC side could have a game at noon, followed by a 3pm NFC game, followed by a 6:30pm AFC game and then finished up by a 9:00pm NFC game. They could also run two simultaneous games at 4:00pm and at 7:30pm or they could stack most of the games on Saturday and Sunday, such as having games in each bubble at 12:30pm, 4:45pm and 9pm. There’s plenty of possibilities in terms of scheduling.
  • If there are 16 teams in each hub city, then you can send 2 teams to 8 different hotels in the downtown area. Each team would receive daily testing and meals provided to them by different catering companies. The testing would happen before the players arrive at the stadium and they would get their results before entering the main areas of the stadium (results can be determined quickly).
  • The first set of games would be all intra-conference games that need to be played.
  • Every team has played at least one team from their own conference, so this would run for 11 weeks total. That means that the intra-conference games would happen from November 7th to January 16th. To be clear, each team would have to stay in their bubbles for those 11 weeks.
  • For the inter-conference games, there would be 4 weeks left open for that. Teams would have to travel from hub city to hub city (league would determine in some way who would travel and who would stay), which means the possibility of a breakout. To be protective of this outcome, teams would arrive on January 24th and then isolate for 14 days in their hub cities. A January 24th arrival would allow players to see their families for a week.
  • The season would then resume on February 6th. The four conference vs conference games would then take place from February 8th to March 2nd.
  • If a team has played less than 11 intra-conference games, then their last week or weeks would be a bye week. If a team has played less than 4 inter-conference games, then their last week or weeks would be a bye week.
  • The playoffs would take place all in one hub city: Indianapolis. The Colts have a domed stadium and clearly have the infrastructure to handle large groups of people from many cities (as seen in the NFL Combine). Unfortunately, the 14 playoff teams would have to isolate for 14 days again. After the last inter-conference game, players would be allowed to go home for 10 days again to see their families. Teams who missed the playoffs would obviously go home.
  • With the trip home and the isolation in the hub, the playoffs would start March 27th and go as follows:
  • Wild-Card Round — March 27th & March 28th
  • Divisional Round — April 3rd & April 4th
  • Conference Championship Rounds — April 11th
  • Super Bowl — April 18th

The NFL Combine would start on the week of April 26th (if they have one). The start of the new league year would start on May 5th. The NFL Draft would go from May 27th to May 29th. Offseason training activities would start at the end of the June and the start of training camp would begin again at the end of July.

Under this plan, teams would still get at least 6 hours of practice each week, have access to meeting rooms, have good hotel set-ups and (hopefully) get fed well. The season would run 10 weeks longer, but it would ensure safety and security.

In terms of broadcasting, CBS would be stationed in Indianapolis for the AFC teams and Fox would be stationed in Arizona for the NFC teams. NBC and ESPN can take on one or two games each per week with their original plans staying intact for the playoffs.

In terms of fans, that’s for the governments and league to decide. If they feel it can be safely done, then that’s a bonus and extra cash for the owners.

It’s not ideal, but it gets the job done. Some players would only get to see their families in person for 17 or so days (out of 177 days), which sucks, but the league can make arrangements to have families come and visit periodically. The league can also take actions to make the experience more enjoyable, such as adding amenities and lounges in the hotels.

The league can continue to take a reactive approach to Covid, which might work out for them, but they are playing a very risky game and it could cost them a lot of money and the entire season. Both of these approaches I proposed secures a full season and keeps everyone (owners, players and fans) happy.