Completely impractical given the current climate, the optimistic notion of NFL having minicamps was officially struck down this past week.
While the NFL is intent on proceeding with the 2020 season as scheduled unless they are forced to make an adjustment, a combination of factors including an as yet settled issue with the NFLPA and the number of COVID-19 cases showing up within college football teams training this month illustrated why the NFL was always better served to wait until training camp before risking teams trying to gather for anything even resembling a practice.
The University of Houston is only the latest college team that has discovered COVID-19 infections, reporting six as of Friday, forcing the program to shut everything down. The University of Alabama had five cases reported last week only to find three more upon a second wave of tests.
Based on safety and health, college football would have the highest threshold to get games played this fall. They need to have functioning campuses as well as being able to protect their players, both on campus as well as potentially on the road. The realities of the college football economy may have them try to cut some corners to fund their athletic programs, but it's still going to be a challenge.
The last thing the NFL wants to do is have something like a minicamp for three days, have any of its 32 teams come up with infections, raising questions about the viability of training camps in late July. Another month to prepare, another month for the virus to potentially be less prevalent, both of which could help in reducing the likelihood of infection.
Whatever might have been gained in three days of practice, the risk far outweighed the reward. Beyond the potential bad PR, so many of these teams are comprised of players from all over the country. If they traveled home with the virus, potentially asymptomatic, they might have spread the virus to loved ones and communities.
Virtual offseasons have been extended by the NFL until June 26th, which is a deadline for offseasons to end per an agreement with the NFLPA. They would have to agree to extend it, which only would have limited the window for minicamps that much further.
Beyond that, the NFLPA also has to agree to any plan to open, which has not happened at this point. It's not even clear how much has been done on that front, which is less about an impasse between the two sides and more about trying to gather as much information as possible, so they can come up with a plan that properly protects the players, which is in the best interest of both parties.
NFL teams were never expecting to have minicamps this year, so this comes as no surprise. Teams only recently had coaches re-enter team facilities and the Cleveland Browns don't even require all of their coaches in the building at this point. There's a 100-person limit on facilities and some of the coaches aren't even in the state at this point. Like many places, they have one-way hallways, require masks and are doing everything possible to eliminate potential exposure. Trying to have a practice when that's the environment is wishful thinking at best.
Had teams been allowed to hold minicamps, it would have been worth watching how many teams would have gone ahead with it or if teams would have simply passed, continuing with their virtual offseasons or in some cases, ending camps early.
There are approximately six more weeks until training camps are scheduled to begin and while there have been talks about potentially allowing them to start earlier to make up for the loss of minicamps and OTAs, nothing has been finalized. Whether the pandemic will have improved in six weeks or remain largely the same is unclear, but the league and individual teams will have had the opportunity to further plan and try to come up with as many safeguards as possible to allow them to practice.
Whether the NFL adopts a plan similar to the NBA in terms of a 'bubble' type concept, even if it's not a physical structure, or take a less strict approach not unlike what college football has done is unclear. The amount of infections that have presented themselves the past few weeks among college teams would suggest the NFL may need to go further than they might have initially thought. These college football teams have operated as guinea pigs for the NFL to see what is and isn't working.