The returns of the NBA, WNBA, MLS, and NWSL amid the COVID pandemic are predicated around forming a “bubble” environment for their respective leagues.
The NFL is planning to play its 2020 season, however, with a normal travel schedule and teams using their home stadiums. That may present an issue, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci told CNN on Thursday.
He also expressed pessimism for a full season if a second wave of the coronavirus spreads during the fall.
“If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year,” he told CNN.
At least two NFL players, Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, were revealed this week to have tested positive for the virus. Commissioner Roger Goodell in an interview with ESPN on Monday said the league expects players to test positive during the season.
NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills responded to Fauci’s comments Thursday, saying “Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches and other essential personnel. We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem.”
“Make no mistake, this is no easy task,” Sills’ statement continued. “We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
Meanwhile, NFL Players Association leadership also has said that it’s too early to speculate. Asked this week about his level of optimism over an on-time return to action, union president and Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter told USA TODAY Sports, “I don’t know at this point. Obviously, it’s a novel, emerging virus, so there’s consistent updates, and new information comes out every day. So, I’ve continually tried not to look too far ahead, focus on two-week spurts of making sure we’re all set up.”
In college football, programs across the country have reported players testing positive. On Thursday, the University of Texas said 13 players had tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19.
The NFL has allowed coaching staffs to return to team facilities, but players have not been permitted access unless they are rehabilitating injuries.