Will coronavirus cancel the NFL in 2020? COVID-19 updates, key dates & season alternatives

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States has led to a complete halt of sporting events in the country and has prompted questions whether the 2020 NFL season will take place.   

President Donald Trump is among those who believe the NFL season should start on time.   

“I think it’s whenever we’re ready,” Trump told ESPN.com. “As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports.”  

The NFL has not released its schedule yet, but here are the factors to consider about whether the season will take place in 2020.   

No football in 2020?  

The NFL last postponed games in Week 2 of the 2001 NFL season in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in New York. As of Monday, there were more than 350,000 cases and 10,000 deaths in the United States as a result of the spread of COVID-19.   

Timetables for when the virus could peak stretch into the summer months, and that could have a profound effect on the NFL calendar.   

The most immediate event is the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas. The draft will be closed to fans, and the format is still being debated as the draft date nears. Teams are preparing for a “fully virtual draft” at home.   

ESPN’s Adam Schefter also painted a grim scenario for the state of the NFL offseason.   

“We all want to see the days where we have that distraction of football,” Schefter said. “But OTAs? That’s not happening. The offseason program? That’s not happening. The draft is happening only through the sheer force and determination and lack of foresight. They are determined to put this on while there is carnage in the streets.” 

Important dates to consider     

The offseason OTA calendar will take a hit. Rookie minicamps are May 1-11. The Spring league meeting is May 19-20. Training camps begin in mid-July, and the Hall of Fame Game is scheduled for Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio.  

The NFL typically releases the regular-season schedule in April, and is expected to reveal the 2020 schedule sometime in early May as it sorts through the logistics of a pandemic. How that unfolds will stem from how long the coronavirus outbreak lasts in the United States.  

Alternative plans   

Unlike college football, the NFL has more leeway in terms of pushing back a start date and taking games off the regular schedule.   

Here are some possible options:

Games without fans   

College basketball experimented without fans in the stands during the conference tournaments, and that could be an option for NFL teams if the risks for spread are too great.  

Later start date   

The NFL feasibly could push the regular season back depending on when the threats of COVID-19 decrease across the country. It is an option that can be considered depending on the possibility of later training camp start dates. The NFL has room to adjust as needed.   

Shortened season   

The 1982 season was shortened to nine games and the 1987 season was cut to 15 games, but each was because of labor disputes. The NFL could shorten the season, and that could pair well with the new playoff format that includes seven teams in each conference.  

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