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NFL issues new rules for dealing with COVID-19

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If the season is played, it will look very strange.

NFL: SEP 08 Giants at Cowboys
This ritual is going away.
Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL is still pushing forward with playing the 2020 regular season, but the game is going to be very different in many ways, although the known changes mostly involve peripheral issues. The league has just released some new rules to try and make the game safe enough to play in the ongoing pandemic.

One that has drawn a lot of attention is that players will have to maintain social distancing after the game, and no longer will be allowed to exchange jerseys. Taken in isolation, the precautions are sensible to keep the virus from spreading, but given that the teams will just have spent about three hours engaging in collisions and tackles, with lots of breathing right in each others’ faces at times, it is not surprising that there has been some mocking of the approach.

A question that has been frequently raised is the policy on wearing masks, and for players and coaches, the answer is that they are not required. It is not surprising since communication is such a major factor during the game, and heavy exertion is one thing that masks would certainly hinder. All other persons on the sidelines, such as trainers, will have to wear masks. Anyone who will be on the field is to be screened before the game for fever, and if they have been exposed recently to someone with COVID-19, they must leave.

Some other details:

On-field fan seating will be prohibited; both teams must travel to the stadium via bus; and media will be banned from the locker room.

We already knew there was the possibility of playing before empty stadiums, and the league had previously announced that the first few rows of seating would be covered with a tarp if attendees are allowed. The Baltimore Ravens have also stated that, if fans are allowed in, they will limit attendance at their home games to 14,000.

In related news, the NFLPA has asked the NFL for an explanation of why any preseason games should be played. It is a clarification of their stance on the issue, perhaps attempting to cast the discussion in a more civil light than earlier reports had it.

With the planned start of training camps now less than three weeks away, steps to get the season in are very much being done on the fly. Be prepared for more changes. The NFL has the advantage of watching other sports that would start earlier, but they can’t be encouraged by what they see. The Ivy League has already cancelled all fall sports, and the rest of the NCAA is now discussing moving the football season to the spring. While the NFL is maintaining a positive approach, the changing situation still threatens to disrupt their plans.