Dear Roger Goodell,
Give Adam Silver a call.
Seven months ago, the NBA commissioner dealt with the same thing you’re dealing with now.
His league’s season was in jeopardy because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Silver and the NBA were determined to crown a champion and did so a week ago.
Despite the slew of coronavirus issues your league has endured this week, the NFL can get to its finish line, too.
Fortunately, you have made it to Week 6 of the season. You’ve had postponements and games rescheduled, but you’ve made it this far.
Now it’s time to come up with a plan that gets you all the way through it. The one thing we’ve seen the past few weeks is that coronavirus isn’t going away before the end of the season. We’ve seen it affect every level of football, from the NFL to the NCAA to high schools.
The good news is that it hasn’t caused you to completely press the pause button on the season yet.
Interrupting a season that has already started isn’t an easy decision. But if the cases pile up, it will force you to.
If you’re lucky, the 24 cases the Tennessee Titans dealt with and overcame to keep their season going is the worst COVID-19-related ordeal the league will have to get through this season.
But chances are, more outbreaks are on the way, especially in a league with way more players and much more physical contact than any other professional league. As the season goes on, more players (especially those on losing teams with no chance of making the playoffs) will likely become a bit more careless in staying safe.
The league never has really had a solid plan. Instead, it’s almost as if the NFL is just keeping its fingers crossed and hoping nothing happens.
But it happened in baseball, so football should have known its day was coming.
So now what?
Follow the blueprint that Silver already laid out for you.
Getting 53 players on 32 teams to go to some type of bubble (even if just a bubble in their respective cities) and be away from their families for 12 weeks seems like a tough sell.
But the NFL may not have a choice if it wants to hand out a Lombardi Trophy in February.
So for now, just do that. Each team goes to a bubble in its city, where players are isolated from everyone else.
If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to think outside of the box, much like Silver did when he sent 22 of the NBA’s 30 teams to the bubble in Florida and tweaked the remainder of the schedule and the playoff format.
There is no need to send all 32 teams to one city. That’s a bit daunting.
Send eight teams to four different cities.
For example, teams in the NFC South and NFC North — the two divisions matched up with each other on the schedule anyway — could all be isolated in one city.
Instead of teams playing their normal schedule, they would just play a schedule against the other teams in their bubble. The Saints, in this example, would play Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Carolina twice, plus play Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota. Since some of these teams have already played each other this season, they wouldn’t have to replay those games. If this format started today, the Saints would play a 12-game schedule (the five games they have already played, plus two games against Atlanta and Carolina and one game each against Tampa Bay, Chicago and Minnesota.
If the league is able to get deeper into the schedule (to Week 10 or so), just send the teams in each division to their own separate bubble and let them play the remainder of their division games.
The new 14-team playoff format for this season — seven teams from each conference — would remain the same. The only difference is those seven teams (four division winners and three wild-card teams) would go to a bubble at some designated city for postseason play.
The Super Bowl could remain in Tampa, Florida, where it was originally scheduled to be.
Fittingly, that’s about an hour away from Disney World, where the NBA’s bubble was.
The blueprint is right there, Roger.