The ever-optimistic NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently sent out a memo to all 32 clubs advising them to put together a plan by Friday, May 15, regarding the gradual reopening of team facilities, closed since mid-March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, assuming states begin easing stay-at-home orders.
MMQB and NFL insider Albert Breer provided some insight into the memo's content, noting that the initial phases of reopening team facilities around the country, once it's legal to do so, would see non-football staff allowed back into buildings as part of the first wave.
"In the first phase, there's going to be up to 75 people allowed into the building," Breer said. "I think that number is interesting because it doesn't it's going to allow you to bring in maybe certain people in certain departments and slowly work people into the building."
By limiting the number of people initially allowed back into the building, the plan would allow for the continued practice of social distancing. In addition, Breer reported, there would be an increase of sanitation efforts around the facilities, efforts likely to include more hand sanitation stations, as well as the mandating of facemasks.
As for players, with the exception fo those who are rehabbing from surgeries or injuries, that phase won't happen right away so as not to give any team a competitive advantage, Breer said.
Despite requesting teams to assemble and submit a plan by mid-May, there are still too many unknown factors that could torpedo the NFL's hopes of not only reopening soon but getting in a full season on time.
"What will be interesting is if we get to the middle of July and we're right on the doorstep of training camp and say, New York, New Jersey, and California still aren't open, but most of the other states are. I mean, that's when the decision point comes."
The challenge for the NFL is going to be two-fold. One, widespread testing will need to be available, a challenge that appears to be realistically achievable.
But even with widespread testing available, there are other challenges. For one, all a test does is identify who might be a carrier of the COVID-19 virus.
But just because someone tests negative one day doesn't mean he/she is in the clear as the virus can take up to 14 days to start creating symptoms.
As Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes for Health since 1984, told Peter King for his recent Football Morning in America column if the tests done on NFL players were to produce positive results from among the group, that could lead to a whole new set of challenges.
You know why? Because it is likely that if four of them are positive and they’ve been hanging around together, that the other ones that are negative are positive. So I mean, if you have one outlier [only one player testing positive], I think you might get away. But once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got a real problem. You gotta shut it down.
The other and more pressing issue that's out of the NFL's hands is if and when states will fully reopen. California Governor Gavin Newsom, who recently unveiled a four-part plan to reopen the state of California, has already expressed doubts about the state being able to hold any live sporting events in front of fans until there is a vaccine for the virus.
But the NFL could conceivably push ahead without fans in the stands if all the other factors fall into place, even though the financial losses from ticket sales, parking, concessions, and merchandise would be significant from playing in an empty stadium.
The good news is that for now, the NFL has time on its side, as most training camps aren't scheduled to open until late July. But it sounds like a lot is going to have to happen in terms of testing and contact tracing--a vaccination and medication to treat the virus could still be months away--for any plans to be put in motion.