Starting the NFL Season in October Would Be Smart

Liam McKeone
Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes / Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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While the NBA and NHL are ready to resume next month and MLB remains locked in a financial battle with the MLBPA to start their season, the NFL is only just starting to begin their offseason activities. Coaches were allowed back into team buildings last weekend for the first time since pre-COVID-19 and details are emerging about how the league plans to allow for workout programs leading up to training camp.

Football is still three months away from starting to play games that matter. With that benefit of time, the league hasn't been forced into making any tough decisions about contingency plans for the regular season if there isn't a safe way to put on games without a vaccine of some type. A lot can change in three months, and the NFL may very well get their wish and be able to continue with business as usual. The biggest change might just be a lack of fans in the stands.

It would, however, be naive to assume that will be the case. We haven't heard much about what the NFL's contingency plan might be in a worst-case scenario that suggests it will be impossible to safely put on professional football games by September. In his Monday Morning QB column, Albert Breer noted there are some teams who would support pushing the season start back to October:

"Moving the season back to an October start is one option that I know some teams support—it’d allow for the NFL to observe how other leagues start back up, watch them do things right and wrong, and buy more time for all this stuff—but the league office hasn’t been receptive at all to the idea at this point. Changing the dates of the season would have to be negotiated with the union, too. That said, there’s flexibility to move the Super Bowl if needed, which creates that option."

The league wouldn't do something like this until they absolutely had to-- but looking at the current state of affairs in the big picture, moving back the season would be the best decision to make as soon as possible. Pushing the start date back would be quite disappointing from the fan perspective, and nobody wants it to happen.

But a later start is a better route than doing whatever possible to start everything on time and then figuring it out from there. It stands to reason that the longer they wait to start games, the safer and simpler it will be to conduct them without putting hundreds of people at risk.

NFL teams may end up needing that extra time, too. If other coronavirus restrictions limit training camp and it starts later than usual, the injury risk for players is heightened. They'll need time to get their bodies ready for the brutal 60 minutes each week brings. Even the most desperate of fans would agree it's better to give them the required prep time than risk an onslaught of injuries.

Finally, and most pertinent to NFL operations, pushing the season back to October is the simplest contingency plan. Breer notes the ability to move around the Super Bowl helps with flexibility. But that should be the break-in-case-of-emergency option, because if the season starts and enough goes wrong that the league decides it needs to move the Super Bowl to create extra weeks, it was a mistake to start the season in the first place. It's difficult to envision exactly what kind of scenario would come to fruition where moving the Super Bowl would actually be helpful (enough players test positive that teams need extra bye weeks to keep everyone healthy? The second wave hits hard enough that traveling from city to city isn't viable?) but none of them are good.

Looking at the big picture, moving the Super Bowl seems as close to a doomsday proposition as the NFL could have outside of outright cancellation. Starting the season in October would make September feel that much longer, but consider the alternatives apparently in place right now: either everything goes perfectly and the NFL doesn't have to do a thing, or everything goes wrong and the league starts by moving the Super Bowl and going from there. Moving the start date doesn't guarantee the former or prevent the latter, but as things currently stand, it's the only decision to make.

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