Despite recent postponements and setbacks because of the spreading coronavirus, the National Football League isn’t heading yet toward a bubble environment for next month’s playoffs.
It’s not on the table at the moment, the players’ union told Sportico Thursday.
“Our protocols have proven effective, when followed diligently,” said George Atallah, a spokesman for the NFL Players Association. “We also know one aspect of making it to this point in the season is our willingness to work together and make adjustments as needed.”
Those comments come in the wake of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game being postponed three times since Thanksgiving Day because of an outbreak of COVID-19 among Ravens players. That game was finally played Wednesday, with the 10-0 Steelers winning 19-14 at home to end Week 12.
The playoffs are scheduled to begin Jan. 9, with Super Bowl 55 slated for Feb. 7 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a conference call Wednesday prior to the game that the parties are reviewing all aspects of how to conduct play as the coronavirus continues to swell, with over 14 million cases and about 275,000 deaths in the U.S. as of Thursday.
“Obviously, we have been discussing over the last several weeks how we would proceed in the postseason,” Goodell said. “As you have seen, we have made changes to our protocols over the last few weeks. We’re continuing to evaluate the kind of changes we might want to make coming into the postseason.
“That does present different challenges like the rest of the season has. We’ll be prepared to meet that. I’d say all options are on the table.”
Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all played their postseasons in the bubble, with strict limits on player movement and outside contacts, during the summer and early fall when the virus wasn’t spreading as exponentially as it is now.
All three leagues stopped action on March 11-12. The NBA and NHL never came out of their bubbles, playing qualifying and playoff rounds over two-month periods with no exposure and no positive test results among players and staff.
Like the NFL, MLB traveled, playing a 60-game regular season beginning in late July. Six teams had enough positive tests that 47 games had to be postponed. A number of players and staff tested positive during preseason camps, and 57 more were found to have been infected during the season.
MLB teams went into soft bubbles to play the final three rounds of the postseason. No one reported a positive test until Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner had to be removed for that reason late in Game 6 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in six games.
No NFL games have been canceled yet because of COVID, although 22 Ravens players, in addition to a number of coaches and staff, contracted the virus last week.
Goodell said if the NFL chose to head into bubble mode, it wouldn’t be limited to a single venue like the NBA in Orlando or two like the NHL in Toronto and Edmonton. It might be more like MLB, which played playoff games in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston and Arlington.
“I think it’s how you define a bubble,” he said. “We don’t see the bubble as most of you refer to it, where we’re all in one location and we’re isolating entirely. We feel strongly that our protocols are working. We’re willing to adjust those protocols, adapt those protocols.
“We may look at ways for us to reduce the risks that would limit exposure to others. We did that just last week by limiting exposure to too many people. We want to do it safely and correctly, recognizing the unique nature of the postseason against the regular season.”