Will COVID unfairly determine the outcome of this NFL season?


Fact Box

  • On Saturday, October 3rd, the New England Patriots released a statement saying that an unnamed player had tested positive for COVID-19. On Sunday, it was revealed to be new quarterback Cam Newton, who is currently self-quarantining. 
  • When players are confirmed positive for COVID infection, the NFL follows a specific protocol, which includes their being “immediately isolated. They are forbidden to access team facilities and are not allowed to have any direct contact with fellow players or team personnel. They immediately are placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list...and if the player demonstrates symptoms, he can return once: At least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, AND at least 72 hours have passed since he last experienced symptoms.”
  • There are financial implications to canceled games and/or a shortened NFL season, as “TV networks including ESPN, Fox, NBC, and CBS collectively pay the NFL nearly $6 billion annually for the rights to televise games.”
  • This year is the NFL’s 101st season, with all 32 teams playing in their home cities and also traveling to play in their opponents’. 

Tyler (Yes)

The brutal effects of continuing to hold a 2020 NFL season amid the COVID outbreak prove that the game is not on a level playing field this year. 

Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs starting running-back Damien Williams is among many who have dropped out of the season as a precautionary measure. Even players who did elect to play this year, like Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt, previously expressed their concerns with the lack of guidelines and attention that the league has directed towards the player's medical safety during the upcoming season. Teams in cities like Miami (referred to by scientists as “the new Wuhan”) have players living in the epicenter of the virus and then competing against teams from cities across the country on a weekly basis. Having both missing and disgruntled teammates creates an uncomfortable playing environment throughout the league.

Additionally, so far this season, several key players have had to miss time after being placed on the 'COVID-19 Injury/Reserve' list after testing positive for the virus. While teams usually have a sufficient amount of back-up players, losing players for a position like quarterback (both Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford have tested positive this season) can be detrimental to a team's chemistry. Teams will struggle to adapt to a new leader running their offense, and coaches will have to completely alter their game plan to accommodate the new signal-caller. This adds another aspect outside of on-field injuries that can halt a team's success. 

Even if the virus itself doesn't influence players' performances, team dynamics have been compromised too much by playing during a pandemic for this season's outcome not to be affected. 

Bill (No)

COVID will not unfairly determine the 2020 NFL season's outcome because protective measures have been put in place to avert such a crisis. The NFL's COVID protocol is designed to reduce the potential for COVID transmission by imposing strict guidelines requiring the use of masks, separating players from team employees, etc. Also, there are significant penalties for coaches and teams if they violate the protocol provisions, such as fines of up to $250K for improper use of masks during games. Every team must follow the same rules, so no one team is disadvantaged.

Another significant factor favoring a non-COVID-affected season is the demographic reality of COVID's impact. Specifically, the COVID survival rate is much higher for younger Americans--for 20-49 year-olds, it's 99.98%--and only four players in the NFL are over the age of 40. Further, elite athletes are less likely to be afflicted with co-morbidities such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes that would put them at health risk for COVID.

To prevent the disruption of the season due to the impact of COVID, the NFL has the luxury of schedule flexibility through its built-in bye weeks, which can be used to make rescheduling games easier should that be required. Moreover, the NFL requires daily testing of its players to stay ahead of any potential outbreaks.

The COVID-related measures enacted by the NFL, as well as the age and health demographics of its players, should ensure that the 2020 season unfolds and concludes without any single team being disadvantaged.  

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