How Golf & Soccer are Providing the Template for the NFL’s Return

| June 22nd, 2020

The PGA Tour returned to action a week ago at Colonial.

European soccer seasons have restarted.

And yet Dr. Anthony Fauci sounded concerned about the possibility of the NFL arriving in September, as planned:

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. 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.

The NFLPA’s head medicine man was forced to respond. From a piece at PFT:

“Dr. Anthony Fauci’s words carry important weight as he has served our country with expert guidance and moral clarity through many crises,” Dr. Thom Mayer said in a statement. “As we have communicated to our players throughout the spring, we know that there are significant challenges to the operation of football during a global pandemic. So far, we have been guided and made decisions based on the best available science and current slate of infections and hospitalizations. Our joint task force is comprised of experts in multiple areas who are working everyday with health and safety in mind.

“In addition to stringent protocols and workplace safety, we continue to reinforce the importance of widely available testing. It is not just a key to restarting football, but also a matter of public health. While the information we currently have indicates it will not be an issue in the near future, we all agree that ethically, we cannot as a non-essential business, take resources away from our fellow Americans.

“We will continue to update you as we move forward through the summer.”

Let me state something out front. I not only live in New York City, the hardest Covid-hit location in the world, but I live in Woodside, Queens, just about a mile from Elmhurst Hospital, the building that saw some of the worst carnage of this virus. My friends and I have often joked (it’s called gallows humor) that we live in “Coronaville”. When antibody testing became readily available locally, everybody took the test. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that 75% of the men I know who took the test, tested positive for antibodies. Some of my friends got very sick. But thankfully nobody went to the hospital and had the death tube shoved down their throat.

I state this information to make it clear I understand the seriousness of this illness. And beating this illness is far more important than playing some football games. But that’s not the choice. The choice isn’t football or death. We can continue being vigilant against Covid-19 and have professional sporting contests. And that’s being proven by the two other sports that have returned to full-time action: golf and soccer.

So what can the NFL learn from these two sports? I’ll tell you.

Start With Testing

Right now PCR nasal swab tests take between 24-48 hours for results. So the answer is simple. Players can go home on Sundays after games and sleep in their own beds through Thursday night. On Friday morning, every single member of the organization who will be on the sideline is tested and then sequestered to a hotel until game day. If a player tests positive for Covid-19, they’re sent home and will miss the next two games. (10 days is becoming the quarantine norm for someone who tests positive.)

Through two golf tournaments, only one player or caddie on the PGA Tour has tested positive, Nick Watney. That’s one of only about 370 people, as compared to the 1700 NFL players who’d be tested each week, but it’s a good sign. And not to sound glib, but a few players testing positive is not going to be the end of the world. The likelihood of an NFL player getting seriously ill with this virus is not high. These are young men in prime physical condition.

Keep Fans Home For a Month

There is plenty of epidemiological work out there to suggest this virus does not spread outdoors at anywhere near the rate of indoor spread. But one thing that dramatically raises the possibility of spread is spending a significant amount of time close to somewhere with Covid, indoors or outdoors. And anyone who has attended a professional sporting event knows you are rarely not elbow-to-elbow with TWO people for the entirety of the contest.

But it’s more than just the viewing experience.

Personally, I don’t like going to non-golf sporting events particularly because of the crowds and lines. (I’m not an intense claustrophobic but I’m teetering.) There are long, congested lines to in the building. There are long, congested lines to get a beer. There are long, congested line to take a piss. There are long, congested lines to get the fuck out of the building. None of that will be possible at six feet of distance unless they dramatically limit the gate. And does anybody see the league doing that?

The European soccer leagues have returned with no fans. And for the Premiere League on NBC, you have two viewing options: television with fake crowd noise and digital with just ambient sound. The former is bizarre and stupid. The latter is some of the most interesting sports audio you’re likely to hear. NFL should go all-in on the latter. Let the fans hear the game. Put more microphones on the sidelines.

Scale Everything Down

You ever really look at an NFL sideline? There are like 200 people down there.

You ever see how many folks the television networks bring to these games? They take over entire hotels.

Golf has Jim Nantz in the booth. They have a guy doing on-course reporting. They have someone doing interviews. Couple camera people. Everybody else has been deemed non-essential and are doing their analysis from the studio. Nantz told the boys of No Laying Up that CBS is operating at under 40% of their normal technical capacity. NFL should do the same.

And wouldn’t an empty building present the networks with more technical opportunities? Wouldn’t they now have more unique options for camera placement/game presentation?

This season can happen.

This season should happen.

But the NFL is presented with specific challenges. And they’ll need creative solutions. The advantage they have right now is time. Here’s hoping they use it wisely and on Sunday, September 13th, it’s Bears at Lions.

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