NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the league's 32 teams Thursday stating an inability to field a competitive roster for a scheduled game during the 2021 season because of a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players or staff members will be deemed "conduct detrimental" to the NFL.
Tom Pelissero of NFL Network provided a copy of the memo, which notes the league isn't planning to add a 19th week to its regular-season schedule, so any team unable to complete 17 games within the allotted time period because of an internal COVID-19 outbreak will be "credited with a loss":
Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero
Here’s more from today’s memo, which also says the team responsible for a canceled game because of an outbreak among unvaccinated players/staff will be responsible for financial losses and subject to potential discipline from the commissioner. Wow. <a href="https://t.co/Q86a2WcG1K">pic.twitter.com/Q86a2WcG1K</a>
There will also be potential financial penalties for game postponements or cancellations because of a coronavirus outbreak among unvaccinated members of a franchise.
The team responsible will be forced to cover "all additional expenses" incurred by the opposing team and be required to pay "any shortfall" between expected and actual payment from the visiting team share (VTS) pool, which is related to ticket revenue.
Goodell also "retains the authority to impose additional sanctions" if a review of the situation determines the outbreak was the result of a "failure by club personnel to follow applicable protocols."
The NFL committed to pay up to $400,000 in COVID-19 testing fees for each team, which equates to $12.8 million. The league can revoke reimbursement of those costs if a team doesn't remain in "full compliance" with the league's guidelines and protocols.
"As we learned last year, we can play a full season if we maintain a firm commitment to adhering to our health and safety protocols, and to making needed adjustments in response to changing conditions," Goodell wrote in the memo.
From the players' perspective, the memo notes any game that is canceled will result in neither roster receiving its weekly salary.
Goodell's memo stops short of making COVID-19 vaccination a requirement to play during the 2021 season, but it takes a strong stance in favor of it:
"We know that vaccines are safe and effective, and are the best step anyone can take to be safe from the coronavirus. The vaccines continue to provide strong immunity against variants of the coronavirus, including the Delta variant. Even with recent increases, new cases remain far below the peak levels of earlier this year. Both the CDC and major hospital systems throughout the country have reported 97 percent or more of the new cases and virtually all hospitalizations are seen in unvaccinated individuals. While there have been 'breakthrough' infections—cases where a vaccinated individual has been infected—those cases tend to be mild and people recover from the infection relatively quickly."
In June, the NFL eased restrictions for vaccinated players, including the need for daily testing, masks and social distancing. Those rules remain in place for unvaccinated players. The memo notes that vaccinated players who test positive and are asymptomatic only need two negative tests 24 hours apart to return to the field, while unvaccinated players will still be required to isolate for 10 days if they test positive.
NFL training camps opened Tuesday as rookies started reporting to their teams, and full practices are slated to begin in the coming days once veterans report. The preseason schedule gets underway Aug. 5 with the Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The regular season starts Sept. 9 when the Cowboys visit the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.