If and when the 2020 NFL season starts, the league will have had the most time out of any to work on safety measures and contingency plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league will be able to work off of the experiences that the NBA, NHL, MLB and many others will have had with the resumptions/beginnings of their respective seasons.
Even then, however, nothing will be set in stone. No single new rule put in place by the NFL or invention from an outside company will be able to completely take away the risk of the coronavirus as it relates to the league’s players, coaches and everything in between. That’s where each of the NFL’s 32 teams comes into play.
So far, numerous changes have been made to accomodate the circumstances created by COVID-19, both on a national level by the NFL’s higher-ups, and a local level with each team.
The first difference fans will notice will be the start of training camp. Per the league’s initial schedule, the Ravens were set to be the first NFL team on the field in 2020, with rookies first reporting on July 11. As of July 15, however, nothing seems to be certain when it comes to training camp start dates, with a general “late July” start currently on the docket and many veteran players scheduled to report on July 28.
Next, fans won’t see as many tune-up games on their favorite team’s schedule before the regular season starts, as the league shortened the preseason from four games to just two. And, if the NFL Players’ Association has their way, there may not be any preseason games played at all in 2020.
The NFL also sent out COVID-19 protocols for clubs to follow throughout training camp and the preseason, highlighting how those who are exposed to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus will be handled by each team.
During training camp, NFL teams reportedly won’t be able to have as many players as they usually would (generally 90) to start the summer, and will instead have increased practice squads during the year to make up for it.
The NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported a multitude of other changes coming ahead of the start of the 2020 season, including: a ban on postgame jersey swaps; no postgame interactions within six feet of each other; no media members in the locker rooms; no on-field fan seating; and teams will have to travel to the stadium via bus.
There’s even a helmet that will be tested out by players that features an addition to the face mask, created to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the field.
The rules put in place aren’t just coming down from the NFL, either, as several teams have already put protocols in place to keep those in their organizations and respective stadiums safe throughout the 2020 season.
For instance, the Packers announced on July 15 that no fans will be permitted at training camp practices, home preseason games, or the Packers Family Night.
On July 14, the Patriots announced their proposed rules for fans to follow at Gillette Stadium, including a reduced capacity of about 20 percent; at least six feet between ticketed parties; tickets arranged in blocks of 10 seats or less; and no one in the first eight rows of the stadium’s seats.
The Jaguars announced similar protocols, administering an approximate 25% capacity for each home game in the 2020 season.
Other items have yet to be decided on, such as whether or not COVID-19 will be covered by injury protections, or if there will be daily testing. A call between the NFL and the NFLPA is scheduled for Friday, July 17, with rookies for two teams able to report to camp as early as Saturday, July 18.
As more information comes out amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the league’s protocols will surely continue to evolve. One thing is for sure, however: the NFL will look completely different for the 2020 season, if it even happens at all.