When the Major League Baseball season started in July, much was uncertain in the feasibility of playing professional sports in a pandemic, especially when not in an active bubble. When issues arose almost immediately, it was hardly surprising.
The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals both had delays in their seasons, with the Cardinals especially facing the consequences in the form of a stretch of 53 games in 44 days. The delays did not only affect these teams, as a total of 43 games involving 16 of the leagues 30 teams were moved.
While the situation seemed dire, the season was able to continue and a World Series Champion will be crowned in 2020. The NFL chose a similar system, as they are not in an active bubble, but they have taken it even further as they plan on playing a full schedule and also are playing teams all over the league, and not just within their regional areas.
This has resulted in some relative normalcy and more importantly quality football. While all may seem well on the surface, the NFL is setting up to have a huge problem with the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic throughout the league.
The Titans and Patriots have both had major outbreaks resulting in canceled games, but much like the MLB, this leads to cancellations for additional teams. The difference between the MLB and the NFL, however, is how often the teams play, as baseball can be played every day while football needs about a week in between contests. So far, the schedule has been maneuvered through changing bye weeks, but this is a quick fix that is destined to cause headaches in the future.
The bye weeks will run out. Each team gets one per season, and if the rate continues there will be a point where a team is in need of postponing their game and no bye week is available. What is the league expected to do in this situation?
Well, there are a few options. The best one is probably the most inevitable option, and that would be extending the season. The current season is scheduled to end in early February, but realistically a longer season could be possible, especially if games were moved towards warmer climates. It would be unorthodox and could lead to long layovers for some teams while others would have few breaks, but it is a legitimate option.
Another would consist of unequal games being played. This would look very weird, and would inevitably come with some controversy, but it is by far the easiest option. Winning percentage could be used to determine playoff seeding, and this is also an option we very well may see.
The next two are a bit unorthodox. One option could be having games spread out throughout the week, with rest periods perhaps not being totally sufficient. Teams may have to have a quick turnaround, and the biggest issue with this would be injury concern. Bodies would likely not get the proper rest time, so if this is the case expect lots of different players to receive playing time if this is the solution.
Lastly, they could dramatically shift the schedule. This seems impossible at this point, but following a similar pattern to the MLB’s regular-season schedule might be a way to stop the spread. This would also limit the amount of teams being exposed and having their schedules line up better. This appears to be a solution that would have been a good option before the season started but now it may be too little too late.
With just over half of the season left, the league has a long way to go before anything could be considered safe. Hopefully, the virus does not continue to spread, but with rumors of a second wave coming soon, this seems unlikely.