NFL planning to begin 2020 NFL season as scheduled

In a conference call Tuesday that could either inspire hope or trigger alarm, the NFL stated that it is still planning to have a full season, including games in London and Mexico City, and to kick off on time in September.

NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash:

“Our planning, our expectation, is fully directed at playing a full season starting on schedule and having a full regular season and full set of playoffs. Am I certain? I’m not certain that I’ll be here tomorrow, but I’m planning on it, and same thing, we are planning on having a full season.”

With the coronavirus wreaking havoc with sporting events throughout the world and with a little over five months to go before the 2020 season is scheduled to begin, remarkably the NFL has yet to entertain the idea of delaying or shortening the campaign or having its 32 teams play games in empty stadiums.

Even the NFL draft schedule will look a little different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The draft was originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, but the league adjusted its plans and will hold the event remotely amid the virus outbreak.

Pash suggested that as of now, the NFL has not begun working on “break the glass” scenarios that might include a delayed start, shortened season or playing games in empty stadiums. Pash indicated the league is hesitant to create those kinds of options, apparently waiting to see the data and health advisories in the coming months.

“All of our discussions, all of our focus has been on a normal, traditional season starting on time, playing in front of fans in our regular stadiums and going through the full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs.”

A number of major sports events around the world, including the Tokyo Olympics, have either been postponed or cancelled in recent weeks because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Thanks to schedules and the fact that the league doesn’t start until September, the NFL, America’s richest and most-watched league, remains the only major North American professional sports league that has managed to avoid suspending play. The league, however, has closed team facilities for the time being, cancelled its annual owners’ meeting scheduled for this week in Florida and made major changes to the draft, which takes place in late April.

“I really don’t know [when contingency plans will be considered]. A lot of it will depend on the medical and public health situation. If the modeling is as we’ve been given to understand, we may not have to get very far down that road. If things take a turn and different regulations are put in place, then we’ll have to address it in a more substantial way. But like I said, for the time being, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be able to begin on schedule.”

The NFL also said it was discussing a “virtual offseason” program that would allow teams to share video and playbooks with players before eventually launching into the regular season. When asked about any contingency plans for the 2020 season Pash said the league, which plans to release full details of the schedule in May, remains “pretty confident” the campaign will go on as scheduled.

The NFL’s 2020 season features four games in London and one in Mexico City, all of which Pash said the league expected will be contested as scheduled unless health authorities tell them differently.

“We’re optimistic that just as we expect conditions in the United States to permit playing a full season that that will be the case for our international partners as well. But obviously that’s something that we will have to work closely with the authorities, public health and other government authorities in those other countries to make sure that it’s entirely safe.”

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