When the NBA, MLB and professional soccer organizations across the world began to cancel games, it appeared that all major sports would take the responsible approach in handling the threat of COVID-19. After gritting its teeth, even the NHL decided to push the pause button on the 2019-20 season. That left just one league to close up shop. Funnily enough, the NFL decided to push through, a trait that has been synonymous with the league for much of its illustrious history. The National Football League isn’t going to let a pesky pandemic halt league operations.
In fact, the league sent out a memo this past week to all 32 franchises to reiterate its plan to continue with the 2020 NFL Draft despite most of the country being locked down due to the coronavirus outbreak. Apparently, no hall passes will be granted, as the league says it’s no longer going to host Draft Day festivities in Las Vegas. Instead, the league will host the Draft from its New York City offices with no live fanfare… for the most part. It will be the first time that Draft-eligible players will not be in attendance for the Draft in the modern era. That means no nifty handshakes between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and young college stars crossing the stage on their way to becoming multi-million dollar entities of the league.
We’re three weeks into the new league year, with free agency well underway. There’s been a seismic shift in the pro football landscape as Tom Brady has left the New England Patriots, where he won six Super Bowls, to the heat and humidity of Florida as a member of the Tampa Buccaneers. Running back Todd Gurley may have helped the Los Angeles Rams reach a Super Bowl, but he now returns to his home state of Georgia, joining the Atlanta Falcons. Phillip Rivers is now the presumed starter of the Indianapolis Colts and former first overall and league MVP quarterback Cam Newton is a free agent. A single pass has not been thrown on an NFL field since the Scouting Combine in February, but the league continues to drive the sports conversation in the midst of global recession and pandemic.
That momentum won’t stop, either, with the NFL Draft set for April 23rd to 25th. Despite some critics of the league. A few have wondered whether the NFL should join its peers and suspend operations until the worst of this crisis is behind us. Handing out lucrative contracts, scouting college players and holding events across a country that is in distress does not please social media. However, in this time where there are no sports being played, having a small respite of normalcy is pleasing. As with any of its ventures, the NFL wants to own the conversation.
As brash and arrogant as the NFL can be, their defiance in the face of crisis is a piece of normalcy that is truly needed. With the world turned on its head trying to cope with COVID-19, the daily coverage of the pandemic can be suffocating after just five minutes. So as absurd as it may sound to be covering where Jadeveon Clowney might sign (which would be Seattle), it serves as a much-needed distraction from the gloomy reality we all must live under.
For the many fine folks who work in team offices across the country, and league offices across the globe, it’s important for the league to continue to operate. While wide-ranging shutdowns are leaving many laid off, the NFL provides steady income for thousands. We’re already seeing hourly workers suffer with the postponement of NBA and NHL games. Concern continues to mount whether that outcome could hit the NFL this fall as the days of self-quarantine roll forward. This begs the question, should the NFL play a season in 2020?
The uncertainty of tomorrow helps justify the league’s decision to move forward with business. Canceling the Draft would mean the league needs to find another date to hold it. That would lead to a quick turnaround from the Draft to the mandatory minicamps that usually take place in June. At this moment, with events being cancelled throughout the summer, the league’s business-as-usual approach is taking criticism. It would be a tight turnaround in the offseason calendar that even the mighty NFL could struggle to execute as this pandemic continues. As much as it wants to continue the show, the league knows that it can’t afford to delay some events because of the consequences it will have on the impending season.
A season scheduled to be headlined by the grand opening of Los Angeles’ So-Fi Stadium (shared between the Chargers and Rams) is in jeopardy. Oh, and those Tom Brady led-Buccaneers? They’ll be hosting Super Bowl LV next February. In a normal year, the anticipation for a new season would feature many interesting storylines. However, the biggest question about the 2020 NFL season is whether there will be one at all. Fans, players, teams and the league itself would like to see a gridiron narrative unfold over the course of a standard season — the NFL extended the regular season to 18 weeks. The anticipation alone for a new league year should carry fans to the fall when cleats hopefully take to the grassy field.
It’s just hard to think of what’s to come without thinking of the impact the coronavirus has had on the world. Consider that the world’s most international competition, the 2020 Summer Olympics, has been postponed until late summer 2021. Soccer’s European tournament has also been delayed until next summer. We are operating in a world of uncertainty these days. The balance between entertainment and essential service continues to be an ongoing debate. As the fight wages on against the coronavirus, the NFL must factor in the safety of organizations, players and fans along with its bottom line. Sean Payton tested positive for the coronavirus before announcing recently that he was cleared of all symptoms.
Football is not immune to a pandemic. Like every business, it relies on people to do the right thing by practicing social distancing. The 2020 NFL Draft will commence on time, but will be a far cry from the normal pomp and circumstance of recent Draft days. The stripped-down studio version of the Draft will show just how different the world has become. The NFL continues to stiff arm the coronavirus, but you have to wonder how long it’ll be before they’re taken out of bounds.