Lichtenstein: NFL Deserves an F for Calendar Management

Steve Lichtenstein
July 16, 2020 - 10:56 am

As a Jets fan, I’ve experienced many a season that was over before it started.

Just not like this season.

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With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the nation, the entire NFL is on the cusp of taking a sabbatical. After Wednesday’s meeting with the Players’ Association, league owners are expected to convene (virtually) on Friday to discuss whether the intended July 28 opening of training camps can proceed.

That should be a very short meeting. At the very least, the start to the 2020 season must be delayed.

Give the NFL a failing grade in calendar management. Though it had the longest time frame of any sport to prepare for every contingency, including further coronavirus outbreaks, the league is now inside the two-week warning with no agreements with its union on the economic or health/safety sides of the equation.

What has the league been doing with all that time? Did it really bank on the virus just petering out?

If this country wasn’t so, um, careless, maybe it could have happened. Unfortunately, many NFL franchises have to work in areas that have ignored warnings and are now seeing grave spikes in caseloads, hospitalizations, and, coming soon, deaths. Anyone playing in Miami, Arizona, or Houston, to name a few places, shouldn’t be too eager to venture into the mass gatherings at their camps.

In theory, no amount of money should be enough to get any player to risk their future quality of life, if not their life. As I’ve noted often, athletes may have a lower risk of severe outcomes from the disease, but they are not immune. The virus can cause deterioration in vital organs, like lung capacity, that can affect performance. Massive linemen in particular may be more susceptible to complications. Asking the people who are taking these risks to place 35 percent of their salaries in escrow so the owners can first recoup losses, as per an earlier proposal, was outrageous.

But, we know by now how the owners view player safety. We know from how they deceived the public on concussion cause-and-effects. We know from all the former players who can’t pay medical bills. And we know by how they managed to jigger a 17th regular season game to possibly start in 2021 into March’s new collective bargaining agreement.

If the NFL really cared about the players in their desire to get camps open on time, they should have been commencing a testing and quarantine program this week, because the virus incubation period can last 14 days. The last thing a team needs is a contagious player reporting to its facility.

Of course, testing frequency is reportedly one of the major unresolved issues. While it’s poor optics, to say the least, for NFL teams to utilize daily tests on as many as 90 players plus assorted staff while this country’s labs are so overwhelmed that many folks can’t get timely results, if they can get tests at all, it's an absolute necessity.

So don’t expect owners to do the right thing out of altruism on Friday. A possible scenario, according to some media experts, is that the league will lay out the health and financial plans to force the players back to work on time and then await resolution of the expected union grievance.   

This was always going to be a rough ride. Football by nature routinely allows for easy virus transmissions. Unlike the NBA, NHL, and MLS, the NFL won’t be using a bubble to isolate its personnel and then track the inevitable infection outbreaks.  

With so many NFL cities under siege, it seems irresponsible for the league not to hit the pause button. And if you think it’s bad now, wait until the fall and winter months. Most health officials believe we are still in a first wave. The way this country has managed the virus, if there is a second wave, it’s lights out on the mighty NFL’s 2020 season.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

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