After quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl at the conclusion of last season, many were saying that the Chiefs were going to be a dynasty. Little did they know that the 2020 NFL season would be in jeopardy by April. Of course, the NFL did end up starting on time. However, by deciding to have a season this year, the NFL ran the risk of facing outbreaks which would rapidly complicate matters. Initially, after three weeks, the NFL looked like they may dodge a bullet. However, the first two big outbreaks have occurred and now the NFL needs to create a standardized system for rescheduling games to keep teams on as level a footing as possible and to keep casual viewers from being confused. Here’s what the NFL has done so far and where they need to go.
A Solution To The NFL COVID Crisis
Steelers – Titans
After a mix of 15 staff and players were infected, the Steelers-Titans game was rescheduled. The rollout of this reschedule was a bit unorganized and ad-hoc. First, the NFL came out and said that they expected the game to be moved back only a day or two. Very soon after that, they came out and said that they were going to move it back to Week Seven and thus this week was going to be the bye for the Steelers and the Titans. As a result, the Ravens-Steelers game was moved to Week Eight and the Ravens’ bye was moved to Week Seven. Put simply, this rollout was extremely confusing for casual fans who were not following the NFL on social media.
For the teams, their momentum after a 3-0 start could be impacted by the changes in the same way that unexpected pressure on quarterbacks leads to interceptions. Finally, the NFL will now need to figure out what to do with these teams if they have more games that need to get postponed now that their byes are spent (the Tennesse-Buffalo game is now in jeopardy). This could lead to massive domino effects that create big problems down the road.
Patriots – Chiefs
After New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive on Saturday, October 3rd, one day before the team’s next game, the game was postponed. Just like with the Steelers-Titans game, the NFL came out and said that the game would be moved only a day or two. However, whereas the Steelers-Titans game was ultimately pushed out almost a month, the Patriots-Chiefs game was actually played the next day alongside Monday Night Football.
The casual viewer who is not following the NFL on social media ran a great risk of missing the game because if they went off the example that the Steelers-Titans set where it got pushed back weeks, they would have missed it because they would not even think to turn on their televisions on Monday. On the other hand, if they thought that ESPN was carrying the game now that it was on Monday (as ESPN traditionally carries all Monday games) and they turned on ESPN to see the Falcons-Packers game, they might have thought the game got pushed back again so they also would have missed it. For those that were able to watch the game, they could see that the quality of the game was objectively worse because of the changes with the scheduling.
More COVID, More Problems
Basically, the ad-hoc approach that the NFL is taking is creating big problems for the viewers and teams and could cause chaos by the end of the year if a standardized system is not rolled out immediately. This is because it is creating confusion for viewers, can only objectively lower the quality of the games impacted, and is creating unfair advantages for healthy teams, that, in effect, are nearly as healthy as the teams that have had their seasons adversely affected.
The NFL needs a solution that is fair, easy for viewers to keep up with, and simplifies rescheduling by making it predictable. The goal of this system would be to treat every team the same and give time for each team to “reset” (more on this later). The first step would be to stop rescheduling games as soon as possible on a case-by-case basis like the NFL is doing now. Instead, the NFL should want to see how many teams end up being affected before changing schedules. Of course, as games need to be canceled, the NFL should still cancel them. However, they should simply postpone them until the end of the season at first.
As it takes about 14 days to get fully over quarantine, the league should take a two-week intermission after Week 13 which is after every team has had their bye. This time would allow teams to get quarantined players back, truly deep-clean facilities, and prepare for the last month of regular-season games. However, all teams that missed a game would play one during the second week of the intermission. This would allow some teams to catch up while also getting time to get their COVID-affected players back. Since it has taken about a month for the NFL to get a real dose of COVID, the league should plan on getting about another month of clean football after the intermission.
After Week 17, there should be a Week 18 that serves as a makeup week. Considering that the league is expecting to play 18 weeks next season anyway, this seems like an appropriate move. The NFLPA may have a problem with this but with an additional one-to-two week break for safety, it should be possible to make this allowable. Any healthy teams that never had to cancel a game must also play a Week 18 game but this would be an exhibition game. The reason for this would be to make sure there aren’t any teams getting a full extra week of rest before the playoffs.
To incentivize starters to play, the NFL could offer 7th-round picks for winners of their games in an effort to not break the league but also give a reason for teams to try. Even if players do not play, they would still need to travel and be at the games so they would not truly be fully rested going into the playoffs. However, Week 18 would actually have the ability to make up two games because there would be the ability for any teams to play on Thursday after playing on Sunday, therefore being able to make up two games in one week using a schedule that is somewhat familiar. However, this Thursday would only require the behind teams to play.
After Week 18, the playoffs would start on not the following Sunday but the Sunday afterward. As for the playoffs, the NFL should continue to consider the possibility of creating a bubble for the 14 teams that make the playoffs. That being said, the playoffs are later but the regular season is now and that takes priority.
While it seems to be a bit complicated, the plan would simply require a two-week intermission after Week 13 except for those teams that missed a game or more. Then, at the end of the regular season, there would be a Week 18 that allows for another two makeup games on Sunday and Thursday. After that, the playoffs would start the Sunday following the next Sunday (10 days later) to allow for additional time to get back COVID-positive players.
“…leaps and bounds ahead of where the NFL is now with its ad-hoc, case-by-case system, and will get the league to 2021 without an utter disaster.”
In the end, this system would allow teams to get healthy and keep football as pure as possible for the final month of the season, where playoffs are center stage and the smallest mistake could end seasons. This system allows for simplicity as well. Casual viewers would only need to know that, should their team miss a game, they would need to watch during the second week of the intermission and then keep watching after Week 17.
In total, this system allows for three built-in makeup periods (almost a fourth of a season) without adding a bunch of confusion and needlessly elongating the season. Should any teams miss more games than that and still need to make up games, they could just simply cancel the makeup if the team is out of the playoff hunt. Otherwise, there might need to be Week 19 or another makeup game on the following Monday. Of course, this system is not perfect but it is leaps and bounds ahead of where the NFL is now with its ad-hoc, case-by-case system, and will get the league to 2021 without an utter disaster.