We knew when the NFL decided to go ahead with the season as scheduled, it had very little flexibility. This isn’t baseball that can pile on double-headers or fill up off-days. The NFL only has teams’ bye weeks to bounce around and that’s what they’ve done, on a limited basis. Which is why there’s no threshold to when a game gets postponed, especially as the season moves along and there’s less and less flexibility. If in Week 12 two teams are showing up with 24 healthy players and the local community theater filling out the roster, well that’s just how it’s going to be.
So tonight’s 49ers-Packers game has little if anywhere to go. Which is why the Niners have to play it with no receivers, and the Packers have to play it with no running backs. And San Francisco will play it having had to close the facilities the day before a game.
Elsewhere, Matthew Stafford has returned to the COVID list. The Bears have a couple positive tests. Two Arizona Cardinals have tested positive. And Texans linebacker Jacob Martin tested positive, according to a report, with the team now working remotely.
Of course there’s higher counts of positive tests in the league, because why wouldn’t there be in a country that is seeing the virus rage again, topping 100,000 for the first time yesterday? But what’s the cut off? Five players? 10? 20? No one really has an answer. So you have these teams hamstrung, and while the temptation is to treat it just like another injury crisis, you can’t contract groin pull from your running back (though that fanfic assuredly exists).
At some point, the virus is going to hop across the line of scrimmage during a game. And then the NFL will have to take full responsibility for that. Will it matter? Of course not, but with everything trending that way, it’s only a matter of time.
But the NFL has to put something out there. There are TV contracts to fulfill, betting propositions to provide, fantasy teams to feed. That’s 19 percent of the league listed above dealing with some level of positive tests. What happens if that number gets to 20 percent? 25 percent?
There is no answer, because the league didn’t bother to come up with one.
Speaking of diving headlong into an empty pool, it appears that the NBA is going to start the week of Christmas, to preserve its Christmas Day slate, and play a 72-game schedule. If the aim is to get the league “back on schedule,” i.e. having the Finals end in the middle of June, they’re going to attempt to play 87 percent of the games in two-thirds of the time. Which seems a pretty terrible burden on the players. It could be that the NBA is fine with the playoffs extending through all of June, they just want to get out before the Olympics start in mid-July (if the Tokyo Games do indeed happen).
If the players agree to it, that means the league has to cram a draft, free agency, and the start of training camp in just about the next month. It’ll mean the Lakers and Heat will have around six weeks off before camp, instead of the customary three-months plus. Which probably means you’ll see both teams fielding some pretty comedic lineups in the first quarter of the season, with LeBron James or Jimmy Butler never getting out of the arena whirlpool.
Let’s wrap it up with a top-level team playing a sport in the same fashion as your rec league team. Here’s the first goal Manchester United gave up to Turkey’s Besaksehir in the Champions League yesterday:
That’s a bunch of guys rotating back into defense simply because they’re tired and want a rest, like you’d see in the park. It’s important to note that Demba Ba is 35. The only way he can get away from a defense like this is to be given a 15-yard head start and/or half the opposing team becomes disoriented, which seems to have happened here. There’s even the rec league look from all the United players, where they’re wondering if anyone else is going to chase him down before reluctantly and futilely picking up the chase. This is social-distancing soccer. We can only imagine the feeling of freedom Ba must’ve had when he received the ball. It’s what you’re seeking when you hike up a mountain, that kind of view. All Ba had to do is play United.