Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy noted in his monthly column for Packers.com that the team "will have to make several difficult decisions in the coming weeks" in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Since the pandemic arrived earlier this year, NFL teams have had the benefit of time. Unlike professional basketball, hockey and baseball teams who were either in the middle of their seasons or about to start, we were in the beginning of our offseason. NFL teams were able to handle free agency, the draft and their entire offseason programs virtually. We've made decisions along the way, but the major ones we've been able to put off until we have more information. With so much uncertainty, it has made sense that we have not made decisions until we absolutely have to. As we near the start of training camp, though (rookies will start practice on July 21 and veterans on the 28th), time is no longer on our side."
Murphy added that some of the difficult decisions to come will include whether to have fans at training camp, whether to have fans at preseason or regular-season games and whether the season will even start on time.
To date, the NFL has publicly maintained that the plan remains to start the season on time. But with cases of the coronavirus spiking around the country, it's possible the league will have to rethink that stance.
There are several complicating factors.
There are travel considerations, for one. Many other sports returning to action like the NBA and NHL are gathering teams in one or two host cities. That would be extremely difficult to replicate in the NFL given the larger stadiums and fields they use, though weekly travel would also put NFL players at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
The NFL also has 22 players and several referees on the field at a time, more than many other sports, and it also has much larger rosters. That could make managing the necessary testing and safety protocols a much more difficult task for the league.
It's enough to have some coaches concerned:
And then there are the concerns about having thousands of fans in attendance during a pandemic, or the financial implications of starting the season without fans.
The league and its players have many questions left to answer. But as Murphy wrote, the time remaining to make those calls grows short.