The NFL has resisted the concept of a regular-season home-market bubble. The NFL may be warming to the idea of a postseason bubble.
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, appeared Thanksgiving morning on Today. Among other things, Craig Melvin asked Sills about the possibility of an NBA/NHL-style bubble model over the balance of the season.
“[W]e’ve said throughout that all options remain on the table,” Sills said. “We’re going to look at whatever the most appropriate decision is, based on the data and the science. We’ve been in regular communication with those other pro sports leagues. I’ll just say there are some pros and there are some cons. There is some risk and benefits to each model. And right now, we’re doubling down on our intensive protocols for each team. We made some additional protocol changes this week. We have a lot of confidence in those steps, and we’ll be monitoring the data very carefully over the next few weeks to see what makes the most sense come January.”
“Come January” likely means “come the playoffs.” Which implies that the league intends to get through the rest of the regular season (or at least try to) by sending all players back into their communities after each day of work. Come January a/k/a the postseason, when only 14 teams remain, the NFL could then hunker down with home-market hotel stays or one or more harder, regional bubbles.
Frankly, a mandatory bubble may not be necessary when January rolls around. What playoff team won’t set up a “voluntary” bubble at that point? What team won’t consist of players who volunteer to stay there, as they chase a championship?
Until January rolls around, the league will be playing beat the clock. Infection rates quite possibly will soar even more after Thanksgiving, as all the people who traveled and gathered and traveled again spark more and more and more spread of the virus. Unless the league separates players and coaches and essential staff from the rest of society, more players will test positive. More outbreaks will potentially happen. More games will be jeopardized.
The Ravens’ situation could be an accident, or it could be the start of a trend. If it is, the final five weeks of the regular season could feature an endless string of fits and starts and postponements and, potentially, cancellations.
The overriding problem continues to be collective bargaining. The NFL doesn’t want to sweeten the pot to get players to stay in a hotel, and the players won’t agree to stay in a hotel without the pot being sweetened. Meanwhile, labor and management continue to flash their best poker faces while their innards churn under the stress of the possibility that stubbornness eventually will result in the loss of millions of dollars in TV revenue and game checks.