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NFL plans to start season on time despite coronavirus pandemic

A general view of action in the first

A general view of action in the first quarter during a preseason game between the Jets and the Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 08, 2019. Credit: Getty Images/Sarah Stier

Despite the growing coronavirus pandemic, which shows no signs of leveling off in the United States and in many places around the world, the NFL believes it will have a full 2020 season that begins as scheduled in early September.

“Our expectation is fully directed at playing a full season starting on schedule and having a full regular season and full set of playoffs,” NFL vice president/general counsel Jeff Pash told reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. Pash spoke after NFL owners had a conference call to discuss ongoing league matters. The league’s regular scheduled annual meeting for this week in Palm Beach, Florida, had previously been canceled because of the pandemic.

The regular season is set to begin with a Thursday night game on Sept. 10, with the rest of the league to play the following weekend and Monday night.

Pash said he couldn’t guarantee that the league would have a full season but sounded optimistic it can and will happen.

“Am I certain? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow,” he said. “But I’m planning on it. We did not discuss [with owners] a shortened season or any changes in the structure of the season. We’re planning on going forward with a regular and complete season, similar to what we’ve played every year. All of our discussion is on a normal, traditional season starting on time, playing in front of our fans in our regular stadiums, and going through a 16-game season, with a full set of playoffs.”

Pash said the league has the benefit of time to address its plans.

“We’re still in March, so there are quite a few months between now and when our season would begin,” he said. “The information we have is leading us to continue us to focus on starting on time.”

Pash said the league would be guided by medical experts about whether to change any plans.

NFL owners Tuesday voted to add two playoff teams for the 2020 season, now making the postseason tournament a 14-team competition with six games on the first playoff weekend.

NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said potential changes to the schedule because of developments surrounding the pandemic have been discussed, although the plan remains to move forward with business as usual for the season.

“We’re moving forward as if the season will commence [on time],” he said. “At the same time, we’re looking at all options with contingency planning. We are planning for a full season, we are planning for international play, unless the medical community tells us differently. We’re constantly considering the contingency planning.”

Pash said “a lot would depend on what the medical and public health situation” is for a delay to occur. “If things take a different turn and there are different regulations put in place, then we’d have to address it in a more substantial way.”

Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer who runs NFL Network, said the 2020 schedule would be released by May 9. He added that CBS and NBC would televise the added playoff games, and that CBS would air a playoff production on the network’s Nickelodeon channel, which is geared toward children.

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