‘I think the NFL season could be over’: Why American football is entering critical moment in its future after Covid-19 outbreak

The Tennessee Titans have experienced an outbreak of 22 positive tests, causing havoc to the schedule

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Week five is in the books as the NFL continues to stumble through the season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The schedule is already riddled with holes following protocol violations and positive tests, including 22 alone from the Tennessee Titans. There is the fear the New England Patriots could experience similar adversity.

A collective shudder around the league could be felt after images surfaced of Stephon Gilmore’s post-game embrace with Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes hours before confirmation of his own positive Covid-19 test.

That game in particular remains a pivotal moment when assessing how fair this season really is, with star quarterback Cam Newton conspicuous in his absence while quarantining as the Kansas City Chiefs eased to a 26-10 victory. Two weeks earlier though, the Seattle Seahawks, who have since moved to 5-0, were forced into an epic final-second stand to deny Newton and the Patriots victory. Is Bill Belichick expected to just accept this as bad luck?  

The ‘virtual football bubble’ was never going to be as easy as the NBA’s at Disney World, with more than 8,000 employees monitored day-to-day across 32 territories.

The league has clearly been riled by what they perceive to be negligence on the part of Titans players allegedly breaking protocol by practicing away from the closed training facilities.

There have been 22 positive tests among the Tennessee Titans

Stemming the spread of the virus in this way immediately following a positive test appears smart initially. But without significant space in the schedule to accommodate numerous postponements of games, it also leaves the players in immediate jeopardy by playing unprepared. In the short-term, there is success in terms of wins and losses to consider, while there is also a reminder of the sport’s danger with physical preparation key to limiting the risk of serious, long-term injuries, such as Dak Prescott’s horrific ankle fracture sustained on Sunday.

"You can't sit around on the couch for a week and be on a Zoom meeting and expect to go be at a physical peak on a Sunday, or whenever the game is going to be," said Ryan Tannehill on the alleged violations.

The Titans quarterback is one of the team’s leaders and as such holds considerable power, with the NFL’s culture lending itself to most following their team’s leaders and their interpretations of the protocols in place.

“You go as the leader of the team says,” Cliff Avril, former Seattle Seahawk and Super Bowl champion, explains. “If the quarterback wants to do it, you’ll probably do it.

“You’d follow suit and definitely go out there and practice. I think the NFL has some expectations of these players which is unrealistic, you can’t say they can play on Sunday but cannot practice.

“It makes no sense. Injuries are already a big issue, to have no practice and only film study, you need that physical interaction. To say, ‘you’ve got the week off but you have to play on Sunday’, I think that’s unfair.”

Shifting the date of the Super Bowl appears to be sacrilegious, but the recent shuffle of the schedule, including eight games and nine teams, appears unsustainable should the situation escalate further. And at some point, commissioner Roger Goodell may be resigned to admitting enough is enough.

“It’s unchartered territory,” Avril adds when considering whether the season could be cancelled. “It’s going to have to be a coach or a quarter of the team has the virus, then it’s a situation where we have to start skipping more games.

“Then you throw the entire season off, with a 17-week season becoming a situation where it’s last-man standing at the end.

“The season would just end up getting longer. And when that happens, I think the season will be over.”

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