The NFL has a distinct advantage in the professional sports landscape right now: they get to watch the NBA, WNBA, NHL and MLB execute their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They can see what each one does and take lessons from their successes and failures.
The New Orleans Saints have already taken lessons from the NBA’s successes (finishing their season in a bubble) and MLB’s failures (no bubble, lax enforcement). In his Football Morning In America column on Monday, Peter King described what the Saints have come up with for training camp: a mini-bubble, or what head coach Sean Payton is calling a “sequester.”
Saints ‘sequester’ for training camp
To keep their team (both players and staff) as safe and healthy as possible, the Saints are renting out four floors at the Loews Hotel near the French Quarter in New Orleans. Of 180 Saints employees, which includes Tier 1 (coaches, GM, football operations), Tier 2 (doctors, support staff, facilities management) and 80 players, Payton estimates that 150 will stay in the hotel to semi-quarantine until the first week of September.
“It’s not a bubble,” Payton told King on Saturday night. “It’s a sequester. The message from the league is, ‘The show must go on.’ If so, we’ve got to do everything we can to be sure that happens.”
No one will be forced to stay at the hotel, but judging from the website, it looks like a pretty nice place. Great views, spacious rooms, giant bathtubs. Even with amazing amenities, living in a hotel for 5-6 weeks isn’t most people’s idea of fun, but as Payton said, they have to do everything they can to make sure they can play out the season. That’s going to involve personal sacrifice from everyone on the team.
The NFL needs to pay attention
The NFL is lucky. It’s the biggest sports league in the country and it’s had more time than any other to prepare and execute a pandemic season. And yet, the Saints came up with this mini-bubble/sequester idea on their own. The NFL, like MLB, is depending on teams and players to police themselves and find their own ways to stay healthy.
That approach has not worked for MLB. Their shortened season isn’t even two weeks old yet and they’re already dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks on two different teams, which they somehow did not plan for. It’s resulted in scheduling chaos, and a number of teams likely won’t be able to play their full 60-game schedule. There’s even been discussion of shutting the season down if positive tests continue to pile up.
The NFL has 17 weeks for 32 teams to play 16 games each. There’s almost no room for error. Considering how disastrous MLB’s approach has been, more teams should consider doing a Saints-esque mini-bubble. But most of all, the NFL should be finding more ways to help their teams and players stay safe. The season depends on it.
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