The NFL is planning to carry out a full 17-week season this fall and as evidenced by its offseason activity, is willing to make necessary modifications to ensure the health and safety of its teams. However, with the coronavirus spreading throughout the country and the NFL season still months away, there’s no way to tell right now how the season might play out, says top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
In an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King, Fauci went over the many possibilities facing the NFL from the prospect of playing in empty stadiums to entertaining limited fans. He noted that games could be played so long as the league can efficiently test its players and personnel and fans may be allowed into stadiums depending on what the community outbreak looks like at the time.
“I think it’s feasible that negative testing players could play to an empty stadium. Is it guaranteed? No way,” Fauci said. “There will be virus out there and you will know your players are negative at the time they step onto the field … Also, if the virus is so low that even in the general community the risk is low, then I could see filling a third of the stadium or half the stadium so people could be six feet apart. I mean, that’s something that is again feasible depending on the level of infection.”
Fauci had previously made similar comments regarding the still-delayed MLB season. The prospect of letting in limited fans has also been proposed by the Miami Dolphins based on their mock-up plans to admit roughly 15,000 fans into the 65,000-seat Hard Rock Stadium and implementing proper cleaning and distancing measures to ensure safety. Nevertheless, Fauci consistently maintains that the virus itself will dictate how sports leagues and society will look months from now, particularly under fears that it will be seasonal in nature.
“As for the football season and what the fall is going to be: It will be entirely dependent on the effectiveness with which we as a society respond to the inevitable outbreak that will occur. So what are the options? If we let it just go, and we don’t have a good response, you can have an outbreak somewhat similar. Probably not as bad, because we got hit really with a 1-2 punch, particularly in New York City and New Orleans and Chicago. But we can expect an outbreak that would be serious. That’s if we do nothing. So it’s inconceivable that we would do nothing,” he said.
NFL players Von Miller and Brian Allen are among the 1.3 million Americans to contract the virus along with prominent New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.