Monday, July 20, 2020

Stubborn NFL Plans to Push Forward

By Anthony Brancato

While the nation's other three major team sports — sorry, MLS — are attempting to keep going with plans that are being widely scoffed at in the face of the coronavirus, the NFL is plowing up the middle as if power running backs like John Riggins are still the rule rather than the exception.

The NFL insists that at least the regular season will go on as originally scheduled, in its entirety, with the defending Super Bowl champion, Andy Reid-coached (and if you're still trying to wrap yourself around that, believe me, you're not alone) Chiefs hosting the Texans on September 10 (as a consequence of this matchup, the rookies and selected veterans, presumably those signed in free agency or otherwise acquired by these two teams over the spring, will report to their respective training camps on Monday — actually "will have reported" by the time you read this).

Until then, however, all manner of byzantine rules and regulations will pertain, but no "bubbles" as in the NBA and NHL. "Social distancing" will also be enforced in locker rooms, including every other shower stall being turned off. Management and NFLPA "hall monitors" will jointly conduct random inspections, with violators facing unspecified "discipline" (as in the type of "discipline" DeSean Jackson received?).

Naturally, postgame handshakes are "haram," as our Muslim friends say — as are postgame exchanges of jerseys.

These are the highlights, such as they are, of what has been agreed to.

But what about what has not yet been agreed to?

Not at all surprisingly, most of the bones of contention focus on what Washington Irving called "the almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout our land." For starters, the owners want to place 35% of all player salaries in escrow — a total non-starter so far as the union is concerned, the NFLPA favoring instead spreading any revenue losses out over multiple seasons (and these losses could be significant, especially if large numbers of older white viewers refuse to watch the games in reaction to Roger Goodell's having "caved in" on what they regard as "desecrations" of the national anthem).

A second issue concerns what to do with players who choose not to play in 2020 for fear of contracting the virus; beyond the obvious (whether or not such players are to be paid, in whole or in part), there is also the question of whether such players will receive credit toward fulfilling their contracts to which they had signed, for free-agency purposes. The fate of what figure the salary cap will be set, for 2021 and perhaps beyond, also hangs in the balance.

The main non-financial stumbling block revolves around preseason games — of which the players want none at all, while the owners are willing to come down to two, from the usual four.

And all of this has potential schedule implications for 2021 and maybe even 2022, for if the 2020 season ends up getting aborted due to the pandemic, the temptation for the owners to make up for lost time — and money — by going to the 17-game schedule in 2021, rather than 2022 or even 2023 (the owners have the option to do it in any of these three years) will be strong indeed, especially if a vaccine is on the market by this time next year; and three COVID-19 vaccines are in Phase 3, the highest of the three phases, at this writing (and one of them even has the potential to be effective against that nuisance of mankind, the common cold).

So it would appear that, with the exception of the Washington New Name Pendings, this too shall pass (they were last in the league in passing offense in 2019).

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