The NFL season is slowly slipping away as the realities of trying to make a 32-team football league happen amid the COVID-19 pandemic make the league’s traditional schedule impossible to safely execute. The league remotely carried out a draft in the spring and already had canceled the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, and half the preseason schedule was cut before teams even assembled mini camps.
On Tuesday, however, the NFL reportedly told its union that all preseason games would be canceled as concerns mounted about the safety protocols the league would have in place to keep players from contracting and spreading COVID-19.
NFLPA leadership told players on a conference call a few minutes ago there will be zero preseason games this year, sources say. Not a surprise given the league offered that but now all but official, according to the union.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) July 21, 2020
It’s not surprising that the league decided playing meaningless games in August would be unnecessary given the circumstances, but it is notable how quickly the league eliminated the exhibition schedule altogether given how long it’s been a public stance that it’s necessary for both revenue and player/team development and evaluation. Shortening the preseason has long been a labor issue, but with COVID-19 cases rising in many US states where NFL teams play and alarming concerns from players about a testing plan for the season, it quickly became a negotiating position the league and owners couldn’t hold.
The NFL had months longer than every other North American sports league to prepare for and plan a safe way to play football in the coming months. That time appears to have been squandered, and the scramble to find a way through this that works might cost the league far more than two more exhibition games.