It's business as usual for the NFL despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The league held a teleconference with members of the media this week. KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel talked about it with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.
The NFL announced on the call that it is expanding its playoffs from 12 teams to 14. But league officials also said they were planning to proceed with the 2020 season as normal, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Thiel said that surprised him.
“There was almost a defiant resolve about the NFL to try to continue in the face of this,” he said.
The NFL will broadcast the draft starting April 23, without fans present, of course. May and June activities will be adjusted, Thiel says, but the league wants to start training camps, the exhibition season and regular season on the existing schedule.
“And the NFL officials on this teleconference with reporters were stubborn about even acknowledging they might be considering alternative schedules or a shortened season,” Thiel said.
WHY SO DEFIANT?
Thiel says he thinks the NFL is trying to "wish COVID-19 away," because of sponsors, advertisers and fans.
“They don't want to offer any contingencies publicly now that would cause advertisers to go away. They don't want to give advertisers an excuse to withdraw from contracts this fall," he said. “So I think that, really, it's about the money. And they're going to be defiant, I think, until absolutely the last minute. It all depends on the success of public health officials around the country flattening the curve.”
COULD STILL BE HOT SPOTS
Thiel said even if the regular season begins as scheduled in September, there could still be coronavirus hot spots.
“In the absence of a federal policy that shuts down every place everywhere, smaller towns or smaller places can explode and overwhelm the smaller health systems there and allow the virus to spread and also to diminish the response of the public officials to handle it," Thiel said. “And if you can't have all teams playing on the same schedule, how do you account for a hot spot in Green Bay or Jacksonville or any of the other places? It's a very difficult thing to navigate right now."
WOULD FANS COME?
He said another big question is whether fans would return if the season is played.
“I don't think fans are going to be comfortable for quite a while in bringing their families to a game or bringing themselves to a game and being shoulder to shoulder with strangers who you don't know may still be carrying the virus and be asymptomatic," Thiel said.
He added one of the things the NFL must deal with is "playing these games in front of an empty house in order to keep the schedule."
“I do think fans are going to be slow to re-embrace some of these games for quite a while,” he said.