N.F.L.’s New Two-Minute Drill: Juggling a Coronavirus Outbreak

A spate of infections in the Titans’ clubhouse forced the league to indefinitely postpone their game against the Steelers and gird for more consequences.


By Ken Belson

Football is a game tightly controlled by a clock. Yet through the spring and summer, the N.F.L. had something most coaches and players covet: time.

The league was in its fallow period when the coronavirus pandemic in March forced other sports leagues to shut down in midstream. The N.F.L. made its April draft and summer workouts remote, and had months to cherry-pick ideas from around the sports world and create testing protocols, reconfigure team facilities and make other changes.

But with the season underway, the league is now in a two-minute drill thanks to two decisions the owners and players made months ago: They chose to start the season on time as the virus raged around the country, and they did not follow the N.B.A., the N.H.L. and Major League Soccer, which created closed communities to significantly reduce the risk of infections.

Whether through hubris or calculated risk, the N.F.L. instead chose to follow Major League Baseball and golf, which allowed players, coaches and personnel to come and go at the end of the workday, increasing their exposure to the virus. The consequences of that choice are now being felt.

On Thursday, the league indefinitely postponed Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans because of an outbreak of coronavirus infections in the Titans’ clubhouse this week, with five players and six members of the team’s staff having tested positive for the virus.

The Titans and the Minnesota Vikings, who played Tennessee on Sunday, suspended in-person activities at their team facilities on Tuesday. Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said some of the infected players were experiencing flulike symptoms.

Major League Baseball, which postponed or canceled dozens of games, found out outbreaks happen unexpectedly and are difficult to contain. The N.F.L. is now juggling its schedule, too, raising concern about the fairness of added games later in the season, when injuries are likely to have accumulated and there is less open space on both teams’ schedules.

Tennessee’s bye comes in Week 7 (Oct. 25) and Pittsburgh’s in Week 8 (Nov. 1), so shifting their meeting to a later date could potentially mean jamming in a game with a short lead time and subsequent shifts to their opponents’ schedules to keep the league calendar on track.

That could disadvantage the Steelers, who have reported no positive cases and appear to have taken every precaution to ensure they can play.

Source: Read Full Article