For more than 40 years, the Seahawks have been accompanied by some of the loudest fans in professional sports. The 12th Man, or "12s," shuffle into CenturyLink Field eight times a year with one goal in mind: to help in the slow suffocation of the opponent's offense by making verbal communication impossible. And for the better part of those 40-plus years, they've done just that.
But in less than a month, CenturyLink Field will be empty for games for the first time. The Seahawks will take the field without the ever so important, or at the very least helpful, 12s. Yet another minor causality of COVID-19, the Seahawks (in conjunction with local and state governments) have opted to not allow any fans in the stands for at least the first three games in 2020 and likely for much longer.
But the NFL understands that you can't play football in a dull environment and has set out to fix that. Similar to Major League Baseball, the NFL is allowing teams to pump in crowd noise if for no other reason, to make the product better for television. However, this allowance comes with a catch. The artificial crowd noise must be consistent for the entire game.
This ruling has the appearance of fairness but is actually anything but. In a regular football season, fans of the home team are significantly quieter when their team has the ball. It is a part of the home field advantage. Now, that is neutralized for the entire 60 minutes, and the NFL has basically made a rule to create white noise in the background of a football game.
The restrictions are forcing the Seahawks to walk a tightrope with their decision. The Seahawks offense is considered the strength of this team, so maximizing their ability to communicate on game day could be ideal. Or, one could argue, that the defense's biggest weakness, pass rush, could be aided by cranking the volume up and giving the defensive line a split-second advantage they may need.
Pete Carroll himself is unsure of what the artificial crowd noise will sound like at CenturyLink Field. The team tested out different decibel levels at two mock scrimmages last week to see what works best.
"Everything is in consideration right now," Carroll said. "There is consideration for both sides... You don't want to hinder your offense on your home court so we have to figure out how that is gonna fit best".
The consistent crowd noise isn't the only issue the NFL has failed to act on. Instead of having a uniform attendance policy, the NFL has decided to let the individual teams decide whether or not to have fans and how many each team will allow. This is obviously an advantage to those teams who reside in states that have laxer rules and in a way rewards the states that have done the worst job managing the pandemic.
In addition, teams that allow fans have no such restriction on consistent crowd noise. The fans can cheer as normal, making the requirement that the teams using artificial crowd noise maintain the same level the entire game even more puzzling.
In 2020, there are no perfect answers and the NFL is going to have to weather several storms along the way. But the fairest thing for the league to enact would be a no fan mandate for at least the first month and come to a more sensible compromise on the artificial noise decibel level when the home team is on defense. But right now, the NFL is going for the appearance of fairness without actually hitting that level.
There will be many weird occurrences during the 2020 NFL season. But when the Seahawks walk into the cavernous CenturyLink Field with 70,000 empty seats, reality will set in. The 2020 season is going to be different. The 12s may be silent for a long time but will come back stronger, and louder, than ever before when allowed to return to the stadium to cheer on their team.