Written by guest writer Stephen Benoit
When the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for the novel coronavirus this March, basketball came to a screeching halt across the US. It was just the first, though: soon, everything but virtual sports was suspended across the world, with little more than the Belarus Premier League carrying the torch. Even the Summer Olympics were postponed, something that didn’t happen since the First World War.
For a long time, America’s major sports leagues were contemplating entirely suspending their 2020 seasons’. The results of this action would’ve been devastating, though, not to mention the biggest disappointment of the year for their fans. “Bubbles” were invented for this reason: to close off areas with the strictest health and safety measures in place. These measures were so severe that Sacramento Kings forward Richaun Holmes was put in 10-day isolation because he crossed the campus line to pick up a food delivery.
The NBA moved into the Walt Disney World in Bay Lake, close to Orlando, Florida, for its 2020 season. The NHL moved into two bubbles, in Edmonton and Toronto. And they are doing great so far: as of the end of last month, no COVID cases were reported in the NBA’s Orlando enclosure, and the NHL has also managed to keep its players virus-free. So why doesn’t the NFL like the idea of a bubble?
The bubble does makes sense.
Italy was among the countries hit hardest by the ongoing pandemic this spring. Even among the scary news about tens of thousands of active cases, there was one piece (or place) of information that showed promise: Vò. This small town near Venice managed to eradicate the disease in less than 14 days by testing the entire population of about 3,000 and isolating anyone found positive before they could spread the virus further.
The bubbles established by the NBA and the NHL work similarly: A limited number of people in an enclosed area that are required to observe stringent rules to keep themselves – and others – virus-free. And their track record proves that it works.
Why doesn’t the NFL want to follow suit?
The positive example of the NBA and the NHL bubble, as well as the negative example of the MLB’s Miami Marlins, were not enough to convince the NFL that “bubbles” can be viable. The NFL didn’t follow suit, though. Instead of isolating all the teams in a controlled environment and play out the season without the risk of an outbreak, they decided against it.
The length of the regular season and the continually evolving roster due to injuries makes a bubble unfit for the NFL, it seems. Instead, the league has rolled out recommendations on how the players and the staff should avoid infection when in the community and strict rules regarding their time in the team facilities. Wearing masks will be mandatory, and regular testing will be conducted to weed out any potential outbreaks before they start. Besides, the players and the personnel will wear proximity recording devices that will help with contact tracing. Players will wear special face shields while in the field.
And when it comes to a “bubble,” the NFL is considering establishing one for the postseason.