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Why the 2020 NFL season doesn’t happen

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Bit of a downer to consider, sorry

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC Practice
maybe a legends league instead? no
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor’s note: This is a friendly reminder that while the No Politics portion of the rules has been loosened during the pandemic, it still exists. So, while you can discuss how coronavirus impacts the Seahawks (or the NFL), you can discuss the good and bad of the policies that have been enacted, but if it becomes partisan mudslinging or just trashing specific politicians or parties, whether warranted or not, then that’s a no-go.)

The NFL has a chance to succeed in a venture at which every other major American pro sports league in 2020 has thus far been defeated: playing its games.

It has a chance to fail for the same reasons that curtailed the start of baseball and soccer, while also short-circuiting an NBA postseason full of promise.

Come January, we’re either celebrating another trademark barely-tolerable Seattle Seahawks playoff victory, or lamenting that the disease’s real name ought to be the coro-noseason-virus. You know the old saying about how change is the only constant? The only certainty we have right now, as football fanatics or sports junkies in general, is the certainty that nothing is certain. With a deadly bug on the loose, against which people have little protection besides patience and isolation, sports waters have neer been so uncharted in our lifetimes. Sure, the Olympics have been canceled for wars and various labor disputes have taken tolls on the four major sports leagues. Often at bad times, too. But we knew wars would end and we knew collective bargaining agreements would eventually be struck. We don’t have a frame of reference for the last few weeks and the months to come. Anything’s possible — which leads me to believe the NFL season is more likely to not happen than happen.

Please receive this post’s main point clear and early, tl;dr style: everything has to go right for the 2020 season to proceed, and only one thing among many has to go wrong for it to be suspended or canceled entirely.

As far as I could enumerate, no less than seven twists of fate threaten the Seahawks and their ordained return to the Super Bowl. More obstacles probably exist, which won’t help the optimistically minded of you who get through the list and think, “that wasn’t so bad, we can dodge those bullets.”

Why does the NFL season fail, or never even begin in the first place?

A) A severe outbreak in the general population

After regulations are relaxed, and while the country awaits a vaccine, the second wave of COVID-19 makes the month of April and its death count look puny in comparison. As fatalities multiply and hospitals are overwhelmed again at Halloween, there is no longer an appetite for sports. Shutdowns become more stringent than their spring predecessors. Very soon it is untenable to staff pro football games and produce them for television. Many players get sick. The league office pulls the plug.

B) A significant outbreak within one team

This option could be related to A) but doesn’t have to be.

I mean, the 2020 season won’t be canceled if D.J. Fluker gets sick and has to go on the injury report for four weeks or whatever form the PUP list takes in a pandemic. But if the entire Baltimore Ravens offensive line gets infected as a result and Baltimore has to forfeit a month’s worth of games or play street free agents in front of Lamar Jackson, how is that an okay component of a legitimate campaign? What if the Seahawks run out of defensive backs? Pete Carroll can only bake raw materials into nasty orc-nerbacks for so long.

The competitive disadvantage would be too great. Or, take the “shit always happens to the New Orleans Saints” corollary: an asymptomatic Ndomakung Suh lands on top of Drew Brees and now the New Orleans team leader has the virus. Three days later the Saints are out of quarterbacks. It’s one thing for a sack to knock out a star player. Quite another for that same sack to sideline the backup, and the backup’s backup, too.

(Testing would help significantly reduce the chances of a team outbreak, but false positive and negatives are part of the reality in which we live.)

Players failing to isolate would make outbreaks more and more likely — and can you really expect hundreds of fathers, thousands if you count coaches, to isolate from their families for six months? They didn’t sign up to be deployed as if they were soldiers, no matter how much we speak of them in such terms.

Got this great quote from Mike Trout, the star centerfielder for the Angels. His wife is pregnant, and he says, “What are you going to do with family members? We can’t just be going from the field to the hotel room and not being able to do anything. I think that’s pretty crazy.”

C) A player or key decision-maker dies

While media coverage converges, and rightly so, on the danger this novel coronavirus poses to the elderly, it also preys on those with autoimmune issues and other serious conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes.

There are 2,000 players in the NFL, counting practice squads. More than a few have known sicknesses that they manage; more than a few others deal, unknowingly, with disorders or diseases as of yet undiagnosed. Like diabetes and stuff. It’s easy to imagine a vicious virus such as COVID-19 killing a player, or players, before long. It’s horrible, but easy.

Imagine how the members within that close fraternity would react.

Now, expand the victim pool to coaches and general managers. An owner could die and the season would carry on. That sounds harsh, but on October 15, 2018, Paul Allen passed away. Scant hours earlier, the Seahawks had demolished the then Oakland but now Las Vegas Raiders 27-3 in London. Seattle players put the requisite patches on their uniforms and won again six days later in Detroit. I’m not so sure a team should or would complete its season if the GM and two assistant coaches end up in the ICU for a month. Or don’t get a ventilator, and don’t make it.

Once a co-worker dies unnecessarily of a disease, how do the survivors approach business as usual? I predict one player’s extended hospitalization will get people’s attention. One player’s death would force a conversation that ends in “No thanks, Roger. We’re out.”

D) Civil unrest takes a front seat

Without getting too dark, and without dipping more than a pinky toenail into the forbidden waters of politics, there exists a reality in which the armed protests we’ve already seen morph into something more dangerous. Relations between the states and the federal government deteriorate even further. Lockdowns persist, and normally peaceful, compliant citizens chafe noisily. Football begins, and even heals, to an extent. But then a contested election inflames divisions that were already deepening by the day. Instead of Christmas shopping, there are riots. Violence seeps into the public sphere. It’s hard to see the NFL carrying on against this gloomy backdrop.

Scenario D is not the prettiest of outcomes, nor the most probable. Much more likely than not, America will sew up its political differences as it has in the past. In the interest of being thorough, however, every threat to the season must be documented.

E) Liability rears its frightening head

We are a litigious people, and our attorneys are more than happy to indulge us when lawsuits are warranted, and even sometimes when not.

Participants in a pro sports league may feel... indisposed to participate. And that goes for players as well as team employees. Whether or not any of them would have grounds to sue is a question for others more knowledgeable than me. The lawyers in the FG room will be able to address this with a hundred times more insight. My only job here is to foresee snares capable of threatening the safe passage of an NFL season, and enough lawsuits at once would be one hell of a snare.

F) Other pro sports leagues fail at returning

Thus spooking Goodell and the owners. Maybe the outbreaks mentioned above do end up hitting a team in the Premier League, or in baseball, when it attempts to house all the teams in Arizona and Florida. World-class athletes have to sit out months or entire seasons; maybe a few die. The commissioner’s office examines the obvious missteps of others and carefully weighs the variables; they decide the overall risk outweighs the reward, and the season never begins.

(If these parentheses are where the full disclosure goes, then have at it: I believe that scenario F, combined with training camp outbreaks, is what pushes pro football into 2021. Also, as Field Gulls own John P. Gilbert noted back in March, one of the biggest financial risks for the league could be to start the 2020 season, as it is only when Week 1 games take place that the salary obligations of teams to players kick in.)

G) The country, or just the league, flunks at logistics

Number of ways the pesky details or organizing a whole season can get in the way of the big picture. Maybe:

  • The country doesn’t get enough testing soon enough so that all people associated with the NFL have access;
  • The antibody tests, which are wrong 10-15 percent of the time, never reach full reliability and players can’t get cleared on a regular basis;
  • The 32 teams can’t agree on where to headquarter or whether to isolate at all;
  • It turns out there isn’t a city or region that can house 32, 16 or even eight operating NFL teams with everything that entails in terms of infrastructure, fields, etc.
  • The so-far excellent vaccine research (which is ongoing, widespread, and advancing at John Ross 40-yard dash speed from all accounts) stays on target, only the target is too late for everyone this year. The cure arrives in the first quarter of 2021 — soon enough to rescue the world economy from the brink, but not soon enough to rescue football this year.

* * *

Getting the 2020 Seahawks to happen at all means a long list of things has to go right. Check all the boxes and you (the NFL you) will defeat the virus, like a video game boss who looked unbeatable, until you tried.

Problem is, you only have one life, and no hit points left. The boss only has to strike you once, with one of his clubs or axes, to defeat you. And that’s why I don’t think we’ll see a 2020 season, or at least not one that reaches its logical conclusion, which naturally would be another 43-8 victory in Super Bowl LV.

(Editor’s note: This is a friendly reminder that while the No Politics portion of the rules has been loosened during the pandemic, it still exists. So, while you can discuss how coronavirus impacts the Seahawks (or the NFL), you can discuss the good and bad of the policies that have been enacted, but if it becomes partisan mudslinging or just trashing specific politicians or parties, whether warranted or not, then that’s a no-go.)