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The NFL must start handing out forfeits

Illustration for article titled The NFL must start handing out forfeits
Graphic: Eric Barrow (Shutterstock)

It’s clear by now that the league is winging it.

They don’t have a detailed plan for a season during the COVID-19 era.

Over the last week or so, two potential COVID-19 clusters have arisen, one in Kansas City and the other in New England, all the while an all-out plague continues its rampage through the Tennessee Titans organization.

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On Monday, Roger Goodell met with NFL owners, front office staff, and NFLPA reps to discuss additional rules in light of the league’s latest crisis.

Violators risk forfeiting draft picks, or even games, Goodell wrote in a memo that day.

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Pretty straightforward, and concise.

But the memo also stated that if outbreaks require a game’s postponement, the league will continue rescheduling them over to Monday or Tuesday, or into a bye week.

But I thought teams not following protocol would face disciplinary action, including forfeits, fines, and loss of draft picks?

That’s the confusing part.

On the surface, Goodell’s memo puts a foot down against players and personnel breaking the rules and bringing coronavirus into their respective teams.

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But it’s half-assed. Either a team will face disciplinary action, or it won’t. The NFL wants to have it both ways.

In Tennessee, for example, you have an internal NFL investigation going on which has so far revealed that a group of players met up to practice last week. They should have been quarantining, because by then, over half a dozen of their teammates had already tested positive for the virus.

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There are conflicting reports, however, with some sources claiming that Titans players weren’t warned not to practice together while team facilities were closed down. But let’s be honest: We’ve all heard throughout these last eight months that if you’ve been around someone who is COVID-19 positive, you need to quarantine. No league should have to threaten you into doing the right and safe thing.

Now, this week, at least every day, a new Titans player is testing positive.

Last week’s Titans-Steelers game has already been postponed, and it looks like Titans-Bills this week is on the ropes, too.

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So that would be two straight weeks of postponed games, and not a peep from the league yet about discipline.

It’s like the league had zero plan in place for potential COVID-19 team outbreaks.

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The NFL has had the most time of any major American sport to plan out every possible scenario. And they dropped the ball.

They had months to learn from the NBA and NHL player bubbles, and even from MLB’s blundering free-for-all. But after four weeks of football, the NFL is still scrambling for a plan to make up games.

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What happens to teams at the end of the season if they miss out on games, or have to “forfeit”? How will the playoff seeding be determined?

According to Adam Schefter, the league is looking at weighing win-percentage, but that becomes murky.

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What if one team plays all 16 games and another team only plays 10?

The 16-game team goes 8-8, but the ten-game team goes 7-3. On that premise, the latter team that played six fewer games makes the postseason.

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That is not right.

After three players on the Patriots tested COVID-19 positive, the team shut down its facilities for the entire week, and all of their game preparation has gone virtual.

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“There’s nothing more important than the health of the team,” said head coach Bill Belichick. “Without a healthy team, you don’t have a team.”

Of course Belichick gets it.

The league has done some things well, like fining various coaches — most notably the Raiders’ Jon Gruden — for improper mask use. But the NFL hasn’t done its job well enough when it comes to protecting the product on the field.

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They need to lay down the hammer on the Titans. The NFL should want to make it clear what the Titans did is not acceptable and this virus is real and forfeit games.

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