With NFL training camps scheduled to open next month, infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci suggests the league would need to arrange a plan similar to the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando to stage the 2020 season.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who serves on the White House task force for the coronavirus, told CNN that football players would need to be separated from others and undergo regular tests for COVID-19.
"Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci said. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
Fauci didn’t address college football specifically, but college conferences presumably would face the same challenges as pro football. The NFL has opted not to centralize operations, choosing instead to have teams hold training camps at their respective facilities. The handful of teams that ordinarily have training camp in a separate location would suspend those operations this year. There will be no joint practices, and it is possible the NFL’s preseason would be curtailed to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said the league has formulated a detailed plan to proceed with the season, and the league does not plan to have a “bubble” system like the NBA.
“We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem,” Sills said. "This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts and other sports leagues.
"Make no mistake, this is no easy task,” he added. “We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
NFL facilities have reopened, adhering to local and state guidelines and adopting a rigorous protocol agreed to by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. However, while coaches and some staff have returned, players will not report until training camp.
Earlier this week, Fauci told the Los Angeles Times he would recommend against Major League Baseball playing into the late fall.
"If the question is time, I would try to keep it in the core summer months and end it not with the way we play the World Series, until the end of October when it’s cold,” Fauci said. “I would avoid that.”
Fauci cited recent spikes in coronavirus cases as reason for caution.
“Even in warm weather, like in Arizona and California, we’re starting to see resurgences as we open up,” Fauci told the newspaper. “But I think the chances of there being less of an issue in the end of July and all of August and September are much, much better than if you go into October.”
A handful of NFL players have tested positive for coronavirus, including Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, Broncos pass rusher Von Miller and safety Kareem Jackson and Rams center Brian Allen. Sills said last month he expects some players to test positive, but that the league has plans to address that situation by removing infected players from the teams.