According to a report from NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on Thursday that the league still intends for training camp to start on time at the end of July.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on a conference call says the plan is start training camp on time and “get ready for games at our stadiums and to engage our fans both in stadiums and through our media partners.” Talks ongoing with NFLPA to decide the specifics.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 25, 2020
Since the Kansas City Chiefs are presently scheduled to open the season against the Houston Texans on Thursday, September 10, that means they will officially open camp at their practice facility on July 25.
Per Rapoport, Goodell said that the league’s goal is to “get ready for games at our stadiums and to engage our fans both in stadiums and through our media partners,” which would suggest that the league is still hoping that games could be played in front of at least some fans. If you’re looking forward to a return to some kind of NFL normalcy, that’s good news.
But other reports emerging on Thursday sent less-positive messages about the coming season. The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that it is cancelling the traditional opening game of the preseason — the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio — and postponing the enshrinement of the Hall of Fame’s 2020 class until 2021. This suggests that it is more likely the league will indeed reduce the number of preseason games for each team from four to two — a course of action that has reportedly been under discussion for the last couple of weeks.
From the same media conference call, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said that a decision about preaseason games would be coming “relatively soon.”
NFL general counsel Jeff Pash says the clubs have been advised the training camp will be opening on schedule. "For most clubs, that'd be July 28." Non-committal on preseason changes but decisions will come "relatively soon."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) June 25, 2020
Yahoo! Sports NFL correspondent Charles Robinson reported that the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is negotiating with the league with regard to the “viability” of a full slate of preseason games.
Few fans would be likely to mourn the loss of a couple of preseason games. But if training camps do begin on schedule, this would give teams extra time to get their players back into “football shape” before they have to suit up and play games — even if they’re meaningless exhibition contests. This would come at a cost of reduced evaluation time for each team’s rookie players — but since the Chiefs are among the teams with the greatest number of returning players and coaches, this will likely be less of a problem for Kansas City than many other teams.
Also according to Breer, Pash said the league and NFLPA — which had previously been reported to be considering expanding the practice squad from 10 to 16 players this season — is considering other options, too.
NFL's Jeff Pash says the league's competition committee and CEC are discussing, and discussing with the NFLPA, the possibility of special COVID-19 reserve lists for the fall.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) June 25, 2020
Another piece of news emerging from the NFL’s virtual owner’s meeting on Thursday is that owners have approved a proposal that will allow teams to put tarps over sections of stadium seating and sell advertising on them — an idea that was reported by Sports Business Daily on Wednesday.
Under a plan shared with team presidents on Tuesday, the first six to eight rows of seating in every stadium — including on-field suites — will be off limits to fans this season. That move is officially to protect players, coaches and team staff from coronavirus exposure, but it would also free up that space to become lucrative sponsorship assets.
Sources said those seats will be covered by tarps that could include sponsor logos, similar to how EPL [Premier League soccer] teams repurposed empty seating sections for ads during its return to play last week.
The approval of this proposal probably does not guarantee that games will be played without fans, as it would be possible to use the remaining seating for a limited number of fans observing social distancing guidelines. That said, if games are played without any fans in attendance, revenue from the advertising could “significantly” offset revenue losses from ticket, concession and parking sales, according to an unnamed NFL sales executive who spoke to SBI.
Per Rapoport, the media conference call also included remarks from the NFL’s chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills, who was asked about reports that new Tampa Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is openly flouting the NFLPA’s advisory to discontinue private workouts after an Instagram post with the famous Depression-era quote of President Franklin D. Roosevelt: “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
Asked specifically about Tom Brady hosting players-only #Bucs workouts, Dr. Sills said, “The NFL and NFLPA are in the same place.” It’s about “risk reduction and mitigating risk. Players are going to share the same risk but also the same responsibility to each other."— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 25, 2020
According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, Sills also addressed the ongoing discussions between the league and the NFLPA on other pandemic-related issues.
Dr. Allen Sills, NFL's chief medical officer, said "very active discussions" are ongoing with NFLPA about testing, screening, treatment responses and travel during training camp and the season. No final plan at this point.— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) June 25, 2020
Sills also said that testing alone will not suffice to ensure a season. Social distancing will remain a central focus of league protocol.— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) June 25, 2020
So while the Chiefs will not have their training camp in front of fans at Missouri Western State University, for now, it looks like it will start as scheduled at the team’s practice facility. Beyond that, it’s too early to say how the 2020 NFL season will proceed — but it seems safe to say that it will be unlike any other in history.