Max Thompson

When the NBA first announced that they were shutting down on March 11 of this year, nobody anticipated that the NFL could potentially lose games in the Fall. That was a full half-year in the future! Luckily, we have not seen the NFL close up shop yet.

However, it is clear that they are at a high risk for doing so. When the NBA and NHL resumed their seasons, they did so with what was called a “bubble” model. This strategy simply isolated everyone needed to play the game in their own separate community, in order to limit the spread of the virus. For both leagues, it worked wonders.

The NBA is currently midway through their championship series and has yet to have a single COVID related cancellation in the bubble. However, the NFL does not have that same luxury. The NBA was able to implement the bubble policy for a number of reasons.

First, they could limit the teams available for play. Since the season was already partially played through, the NBA only invited 22 out of the 30 teams to participate. This was not at all an issue to the fans because the remaining eight teams were already eliminated from playoff contention.

The NFL does not have that same luxury. Since their season has just begun, they have to make sure that all 32 teams have the ability to compete for the championship. Regardless of all this, the sheer number of players in the NFL made it impossible as well.

There are only 15 players on an NBA roster. With only 22 teams, that meant that there would be a maximum of 330 players in the NBA bubble. For the NFL, their active rosters contain 53 players. That would be over 1,600 players. Additionally, the coaching and training staff for NFL rosters are typically twice the size as well. This isn’t even counting the referees, team doctors, trainers and more.

Due to the sheer number of essential personnel, the NFL couldn’t implement their own bubble. It seems as though their plan instead is to just not have one.

Last week, we saw evidence of just how badly things can turn for the NFL. Before the start of week four, a report surfaced that one player and two staff members tested positive on the Tennessee Titans. That number has since jumped all the way to 18 total personnel members.

The Titans’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was initially scheduled for last Sunday, but has since been moved all the way to Oct. 25. In order to make this change, the NFL rescheduled the Titans’ and Steelers’ bye weeks and rescheduled a Steelers and Baltimore Ravens game later in the year.

Within days, the entire NFL schedule was in jeopardy. Worst of all, each of these changes had to be made because of positive cases from a single team. If the Titans had spread the disease to their previous opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, there would have been even more change necessary.

This is the central issue that the NFL is facing. They are far too large of a league to implement a bubble, but they have not made any schedule modifications to accommodate for the eventual cases that will occur within various teams. The MLB didn’t have a bubble either, but they at least shortened the season over a longer period of time and required teams that tested positive to forfeit games.

The NFL has done neither of those. Sure, they may be implementing lots and lots of tests, and that is great. Testing is essential to identifying and minimizing the spread of a highly infectious disease. Nevertheless, we are only three weeks into this season. More players are going to test positive, and the NFL can only do so many seat-of-their-pants changes to try to accommodate that.

If we don’t see a real, fundamentally sound plan from the NFL, their entire season could be in jeopardy.

Max Thompson is a sophomore majoring in business management and journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at sthomp92@vols.utk.edu. Follow @The_Out_Route on Twitter for high-quality NFL analysis!

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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