Murphy on COVID: ‘Time No Longer on Our Side’
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers, and the rest of the National Football League, are running out of time to chart a course through the unnavigated waters of COVID-19.
The NFL had time on its side when the ferocity of the pandemic became evident in March. The NBA season put its season on hold almost four months ago. But now, with training camp set to start for rookies on July 21 and veterans on July 28 and the pandemic showing few signs of wavering, the time has come for the NFL to make some hard decisions.
The Packers announced one of those hard choices a few days ago with its decision to “significantly” reduce the number of fans allowed in Lambeau Field for games – if they’re allowed in at all.
“Unlike professional basketball, hockey and baseball teams, who were either in the middle of their seasons or about to start, we were in the beginning of our offseason,” Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said in his monthly column at Packers.com. “NFL teams were able to handle free agency, the draft and their entire offseason programs virtually. We've made decisions along the way, but the major ones we've been able to put off until we have more information. With so much uncertainty, it has made sense that we have not made decisions until we absolutely have to. As we near the start of training camp … time is no longer on our side.”
Another hard choice was ending (for now, anyway) its long relationship with St. Norbert College in nearby De Pere. While the Packers practice a short bike ride from Lambeau Field, the college has been the team’s training camp home for 63 years. Thus, for the first time in more than six decades, the players will be resting their heads somewhere other than the school dorms.
“The decision was based on NFL protocols established to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Murphy wrote. “We greatly value our relationship with SNC (the longest continuous relationship between an NFL team and a university) and it was difficult to break the news to SNC President Brian Bruess. We made a donation to SNC to help compensate them for the revenue they will lose this summer. We also recently announced that our shareholder meeting would be held virtually on July 23.”
More key decisions are coming. The team’s four-game preseason is set to start in a little more than a month; the first game is slated for Aug. 15 against Arizona. Will the team play two preseason games? Or none at all? Will the team hold its annual Family Night practice? Will the entire 90-man roster be invited for training camp? And whatever the number, how can the team keep its players and coaches healthy when players in the socially distanced sport of golf have tested positive?
“The league and the NFLPA are currently negotiating the protocols that will be in place for stadiums, and this will also help inform our decisions,” Murphy said. “There are many factors to take into consideration in making these decisions, including the economic impact of our games on the local community, but most important will be the health and safety of our players, coaches and fans.”