The NFL is reportedly not considering any plans to play the 2020 season at a centralized location, an idea mentioned as a potential solution for the NBA, NHL and MLB amid the coronavirus pandemic.
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Saturday that any type of neutral-site structure is "not on the table," and league spokesperson Brian McCarthy said the current view is to move forward as normal with hopes of fans being in attendance when the regular season begins in September.
"We plan to start on time," McCarthy said.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said on CBS This Morning in late April that the league is preparing to play its season as scheduled unless the COVID-19 circumstances make it impossible.
"I think, you know, right now our job is to be prepared for the season. That means keeping our football schedule as best we can—obviously with modifications to make sure we're doing it safely," he said. "But we're going to be prepared and ready, and we're planning on playing this fall even though it may be different."
John Ourand and Ben Fischer of the Sports Business Journal reported Monday that the NFL is working behind the scenes to prepare contingency plans, though.
Here's a look at some possible changes if the situation prevents Week 1 from happening as scheduled:
- Regular season starting as late as Oct. 15.
- No bye weeks.
- No Pro Bowl.
- Super Bowl on Feb. 28.
"Sources caution that none of the plans are final, and nothing has been ruled out," Ourand and Fischer wrote. "All parties are aware that the season is still subject to major variables around the spread of the coronavirus by late summer, local regulations and medical progress against the disease."
Playing games with fans in attendance could be unlikely, though.
In April, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, whose city is home to the Chargers and Rams, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer he doesn't envision any large gatherings until at least 2021.
"It's difficult to imagine us getting together in the thousands anytime soon, so I think we should be prepared for that this year," he said. "... But until there's either a vaccine, some sort of pharmaceutical intervention, or herd immunity, the science is the science. And public health officials have made very clear we have miles and miles to walk before we can be back in those environments."
Football's return is also complicated by the large number of people required to make a game happen, even in a made-for-television format. Each team has a 53-man roster and an extended coaching staff combined with referees, TV crews and other essential stadium personnel.
It leaves more questions than answers about when the NFL will move forward in September, but for now the league offices is working to stay on schedule after going through the offseason as planned.