Isay: The NFL should create an isolation bubble for the playoffs, players must follow rules in regular season

Isay thinks the NFL should follow the NBA’s lead to create an isolation bubble for the playoffs; teams must follow safety precautions during the regular season.

The playoffs

The National Football League has decided to play their season with strict COVID-19 protocols. They enforce daily testing and require players to wear tracking devices so that they stay socially distanced. These protocols worked throughout the first few weeks of the season – no players tested positive. However, as COVID-19 cases have increased nationally, the NFL has had multiple outbreaks – most notably with the Baltimore Ravens, whose Week 12 game against the Steelers was postponed three times. Like the NFL, the National Basketball Association had to pause their season as COVID-19 spread among players. Unlike the NFL, they successfully created an isolated bubble in Orlando to finish their season. The NBA successfully finished the season in this bubble and played the playoffs without a single player or staff member testing positive. While it may be impossible for the NFL to create a bubble to finish the regular season, like the NBA, they should do so in the playoffs to avoid letting the pandemic cut the playoffs short.

An isolated bubble in the playoffs would allow teams to practice and play games with a drastically lower risk of infection. While an NFL season involves 32 teams, only 14 teams participate in the playoffs. It would still be incredibly expensive to create such a bubble, but with weekly positive tests increasing across the league, it seems that a bubble environment would be the only way the playoffs could happen without teams being put at a disadvantage because they’ve suffered outbreaks. It is one thing to make an NFL team play one game without important players, but it is another to make teams play playoff games short staffed with their season on the line. If an outbreak were to occur in the playoffs at a similar level to that of the Ravens in Week 12, it would be unfair to the team that had the outbreak. A team may follow all safety protocols and do everything they can to stay safe, yet still get unlucky. After all, that’s how the pandemic works – it’s unexpected and difficult to predict.

The NFL may be unlikely to create a bubble for the playoffs. That’s easy to see – they were so stubborn that they wouldn’t even cancel the Week 12 matchup between the short-staffed Ravens and Steelers. It would also be an expensive endeavor. But, if the NFL wants to avoid positive tests, and even worse, an uproar from disappointed fans and players who lost their seasons because of the league’s recklessness, it is the course of action they must take.

The regular season 

The regular season is more difficult to handle than the playoffs. There are 32 NFL teams. Each team consists of a 53-man roster, practice squad players, and a large coaching staff. Sure, playing games in an isolated environment sounds like a great way to prevent cases from postponing games, but it is nearly impossible to find an area where that can happen. When you consider how they would need 60 regulation size football fields and thousands of hotel rooms for the 2000 or so NFL players (not including the staff members), it is obvious how incredibly difficult it would be for the NFL to create a bubble similar to that of the NBA in Orlando.

To ensure that the season proceeds safely, the NFL must continue to remain diligent about pandemic protocols. The NFL has stepped up their rules with new protocols that even require players to wear masks on the sidelines during games. When the Denver Broncos’ backup Quarterback Brett Rypien tested positive for COVID-19, and the other quarterbacks reportedly violated social distancing protocols, every quarterback on the team was deemed high-risk and ruled out of their week 12 game against the New Orleans Saints. Yet, instead of canceling the game, the NFL made the Broncos play the game without a quarterback. Although the penalty seems harsh, I think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the right decision. Goodell has made it clear that a team failing to follow protocols is not a justification for the cancellation of a game.  Making them play also makes it clear that mistakes like these – not wearing masks or staying socially distanced – are mistakes players and organizations cannot afford to make. 

I doubt the NFL will be able to finish the season if teams aren’t adamant about wearing masks and following other protocols. Teams need to do a better job of sticking to the protocols provided by Commissioner Roger Goodell to finish the season. 

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