Miami Marlins

What the Miami Marlins’ COVID outbreak tells us about the NFL season


NFL fans got the news they were hoping for over the past week, when the league and its players came to an agreement on how to proceed with training camp and the NFL season in light of the continued spread of COVID-19.

News Monday morning might be cause for concern as training camps begin to open this week.

Major League Baseball returned to action last week, and it was fantastic to see another sport get off the ground along with Major League Soccer, the NWSL, the NBA, and the WNBA. Sure, images of empty stadiums, or cardboard cutouts sitting atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park, took some getting used to, but having baseball back provided a bit of normalcy.

That normalcy, as we have often seen during 2020, seems under threat today:

This news has already sent ripples throughout the baseball – and larger – world. The Marlins canceled their home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, which was scheduled for Monday night. Having spent the opening weekend of the season in Philadelphia playing the Phillies, there are concerns about continued spread:

But beyond the immediate impact, there are larger concerns already being discussed behind the scenes:

Now let’s turn to the NFL, as training camps begin to open.

Many argued that when it comes to the NFL, the league had the benefit of “going last.” They would be able to observe how the various professional leagues handled COVID-19, and any outbreaks, to see what works, and what did not. With the benefit of time and additional information, the NFL would be in the best position to complete a full season on time and with minimal disruptions.

This Marlins news brings some issues into question.

First, what does this mean for teams based in some of the current COVID-19 hotspots? Obviously Florida is in the midst of an increase of cases, and with teams based in Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, how can the league best handle teams playing in such hot zones? This list could be expanded to include the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, as well as the Arizona Cardinals and the California teams, as those states are seeing a similar rise in cases.

Second, what does this do for the idea of a bubble? MLB decided against using the bubble concept during their return to the field, as as we have seen, after just one weekend of play a situation has potentially threatened the season. Couple that with this:

Things have not been perfect, as both the NWSL and MLS had to deal with flare-ups on some teams, but the implementation of a bubble environment seems to have prevented community spread within those settings.

Should the NFL follow suit?

Again, we all want to see football in the fall. Returning to the original point for a moment, the NFL was in the best position because of time and the opportunity to see what works, and what does not. From what we have seen from the various leagues so far, the bubble environment seems to be the best way to return to play safely.

Should the NFL go down the same path? Right now, it seems like a bubble provides the best way to get back to the game. Of course, it would need to be modified in some way. Sure, in their bubble MLS moved around 2,000 people to a single location, with 26 teams practicing and playing within a secured sports facility. How could that work for the NFL, especially in a training camp setting? Or would the bubble have to be modified in a sense, housing teams together post-training camp?

Back in June, Dr. Anthony Fauci proposed the idea of a modified bubble for the NFL. Keeping players isolated from the community at large, and testing them regularly, was the best way in Dr. Fauci’s mind to return to the game. Recent data and information likely supports that position.

Perhaps a model could be implemented where, post-training camp, teams are then isolated in modified bubbles. The NFL and the NFLPA have agreed on conditions regarding player activity away from the field – with strict penalties for those who fail to comply – and the league needs to have a zero tolerance standard for any transgressions. As the Marlins situation outlines, this virus can spread through a locker room very quickly, and it just takes one slip-up for a team’s season to be threatened, or the sport’s season.

Because if this Marlins situation has taught us anything, perhaps playing sans bubble is the quickest way to threaten an entire league.

Whatever the NFL decides, we all hope for the best for the players, coaches, staff and their families. These are certainly uncertain and challenging times.

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