How will the NFL return in 2020?

It may all become a moot point if the coronavirus becomes an opponent to difficult to overcome and the NFL is unable to take the field safely this fall. But with the league determined to go on, one of the biggest question marks facing the league is whether or not to allow fans in the stands.

Sports have been returning in recent weeks, from the Korean Baseball League to the German Bundesliga to NASCAR and the PGA Tour in the United States. But all four have had one thing in common: No spectators.

When the NFL presumably takes the field in September, it is bravely optimistic that it can do so with fans in the stands. As late as last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said AT&T Stadium in Dallas would be allowed, theoretically, to fill 50-percent capacity, or roughly 45,000 people, at Cowboys games.

Whether or not the league or local officials in each team’s city will actually allow such numbers remains to be seen. But if the final verdict is no fans allowed, the games would take on a dynamic the league has never experienced, and it could have major implications for fans at home who are checking the odds and making wagers on the NFL.

Teams are expected to play games in their home arenas, but if there are no fans, is there really such thing as a home-field advantage? And if the answer in these eerily-silent stadiums is no, how will the oddsmakers adjust to this new normal?

Teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, with their fabled “12th man” that symbolizes the advantage gained by the intense crowd noise at CenturyLink Field, would seemingly lose the three-point advantage granted to home teams by oddsmakers simply for the being the home team.

Without the crowd noise, especially at the enclosed ends of the field, where crowd noise reverberates, the lack of fans would negate an opposing offense’s difficulty in hearing snap counts and quarterback audibles.

Indeed, since 2012, the average NFL game has been won by the home team by a score just below three points, with the home team winning roughly 60 percent of the time. But it remains likely that road teams will see their odds of victory increase without the normal road-team pitfalls in their path.

The one wild card in a no-fan scenario would be allowing home teams to pipe in crowd noise over the public-address system, creating an artificial home-field advantage. The league, still clinging to the notion of having actual human fans, have not weighed in on such a prospect

As for Abbott’s order to allow upwards of 45,000 to attend Cowboys home games, health experts seemed skeptical.

“Sure, the governor says, ‘You can have 45,000 people gather at the Cowboys’ stadium,’” said Dr. Mark Casanova, president of the Dallas County Medical Society, a group of several thousand physicians. “Does that mean the NFL, Jerry Jones and the other relevant stakeholders should act on that? They could, but should they?

“I think that’s the nutshell. Just because you can, it’s not saying you have to. It’s not saying you should. The way I look at the governor’s allowances are, he said you could. Nobody is saying you have to. Nobody is saying you should.”

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