NFL Running Out Of Wiggle Room With Schedule Alterations
There are 12 more weeks in the NFL's regular season, but playing all the games before the scheduled Jan. 3 final day "likely is a pipe dream in a collision sport with so many participants per team," according to Barry Wilner of the AP. Following yesterday's developments in which eight games were rescheduled, any "wiggle room the NFL had in compiling the schedule released in the spring pretty much is gone." Further outbreaks -- or the continuance of the ones in Nashville and Foxboro -- "will lead to more disturbances." Given the "nature of the sport and the inability to play games too close together on any regular basis, the league is now cornered." NFL execs have said that they have "myriad contingency plans, which have to include regular-season games in January." Wilner: "How many? As many as are needed to get to 16 games -- barring a total shutdown of the entire league" (AP, 10/12).
INSIDE THE MOVING SCHEDULE: NBCSPORTS.com's Peter King reports NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell early yesterday morning held a conference call with around 10 senior staffers, where those on the call got "briefed" on the league's evolving coronavirus situation by NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills. Sills spoke "about the two new positives" on the Patriots and Titans. Sills "heard about the Patriots’ test late Saturday night, and the Titans’ test before dawn" yesterday. NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Troy Vincent had "gone over scenarios with several teams on Friday in case of positives" with the Titans and Patriots. The Patriots-Broncos game getting moved, for example, "would set into play a major chain reaction causing six games to be moved, and causing bye weeks to be cast to the wind." Vincent told Chargers GM Tom Telesco that "havoc, particularly would be wreaked with the Chargers, who’d have to move four games." Then TV execs "would go over changes with the networks, football ops would go over changes with all the affected teams, and all would report back in a few hours to be sure all changes were okay before the league would announce them" (NBCSPORTS.com, 10/12).
LEAGUE WASTED GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: In Boston, Chad Finn writes league leaders had "every advantage to get this right, and still tripped over their own arrogance well short of the end zone." The NFL had, "at minimum, a five-month grace period to figure out how to best proceed without endangering its players and personnel while also constructing a schedule with a little bit of built-in wiggle room for the inevitability of positive tests for the virus." But it "essentially put its head down to try and plow through the pandemic like it was 1958 Jim Brown trampling some 205-pound linebacker." The NFL "forgot that the virus doesn’t adapt for anyone" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/12). Also in Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes, "Patchwork scheduling and bye-week maneuvering is not a sustainable model. The center will not hold. ... Every other sport has acquiesced to the virus. Time for the NFL to face reality." Shaughnessy: "The arrogant NFL needs to stop its presidential pretending that COVID-19 is a mere nuisance that might change the date of the sacred Super Bowl. It’s more than that. It’s about the health and safety of the players and their families. The virus has plans that Roger Goodell cannot control" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/12).
STARTING TO GET SHAKY: USA TODAY's Nate Davis believes everyone -- the league, the players, their families -- deserve "copious credit" for managing the pandemic as they have so far, as well as mitigating the "risks they take while entertaining the rest of us." But the past week has been a "stark reminder that COVID-19 can't be taken for granted as it increasingly impacts the league's teams and schedule." Davis: "Let's hope the NFL can use recent events as a teachable moment while trying to avert a league-wide breakout of the virus. Still, with NFL HQ now furiously moving games around the calendar in an effort to protect the integrity of the 17-week regular season, it's worth wondering how much longer a schedule teetering like a Jenga tower can survive" (USA TODAY, 10/12).
WHY NOT JUST ADD WEEK 18? In Boston, Karen Guregian writes the NFL "continues to play with fire, and doesn’t seem to mind twisting itself into a pretzel, rather than make the more prudent, and safe, decision for the players." She asks, "Why not just push the games back to Week 18 or beyond when COVID-19 is involved?" That "would allow the impacted teams a better chance to get their respective situations with positive tests under control before getting back on the field" and it "would help teams stop the spread, and prevent the type of competitive disadvantage." Guregian: "Maybe that’s too simple, makes too much sense" (BOSTON HERALD, 10/12). In Miami, Beasley & Salguero note once teams "get past their bye, there becomes no margin for error, schedule-wise, for them or their opponents -- without going to an 18th week (or simply canceling games)" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/12). Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, John Steigerwald wrote under the header, "NFL Soon Will Stand For National Forfeit League." It "seems pretty obvious the NFL is going to have to create open weeks by shortening the schedule or not postpone games when a few players get sick" (TRIBLIVE.com, 10/11).
NFL DESERVES CREDIT DESPITE REARRANGING: Fox’ pregame show yesterday touched on the changes caused by the pandemic, and the net's Terry Bradshaw said, “Hats off to the commissioner, Roger Goodell. I think they’ve been proactive in this whole COVID-19 thing. The testing of the players, coaching staffs, front offices and everyone involved.” He added the NFL has done an “excellent job” of moving games around. More Bradshaw: “They’ve maintained the integrity of the National Football League, and they’re giving to America what they want: football.” Fox’ Michael Strahan added, “It is not an indictment on any player or organization when you have these positive tests, because that’s just the way the world is right now. The reaction it to shut down these facilities to make sure people are safe is the best thing they can do” (“Fox NFL Sunday,” Fox, 10/11).