The NFL fully intends to play its full season in 2020 despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, league executive Jeff Pashearlier this week.
Dr. Allan Sills, the league's chief medical officer, is not entirely sure that will happen. Sills, who is heading the league's response to COVID-19, said on Thursday that widespread testing "would have to be available before the reopening of the league could be contemplated," according to NFL Network's Judy Battista. Sills said that the availability of point care testing, where a test can be administered and results are returned quickly, will be a critical factor with determining when teams are allowed to return to their facilities. While this type of testing is not currently available, Sills, without offering a specific timetable, is confident that they will be soon.
"As long as we're still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don't think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport," Sills said. "Because we're going to have positive cases for a very long time."
While there is no timetable for when the NFL needs to make a decision on its season, Sills said that the players will have to be allotted some time to get back in shape before starting the season. Late last month, commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo informing teams that all offseason functions have been postponed until further notice. Teams have also left their facilities, with coaches and general managers working remotely from home.
With the start of the NFL draft less than three weeks away, teams have started having virtual meetings with draft prospects. The draft will not take place in Las Vegas but will be televised, with more than 50 prospects to take part in virtual interviews during the draft.
Sills said it's too early to say how large groups of fans would be handled until a vaccine is available. Sills said that the NFL's decision regarding fans will not be done in a vacuum, as the league will also evaluate how the NBA, NHL, MLB and college sports are handling that situation.
Sills is not ruling out the league's regular season beginning on time, despite the challenges that lie ahead.
"I would say [that starting the season on time is] everyone's hope, that we are in a position to do that," Sills said. "But the reality is none of us know those facts for certain right now. We hope and pray for the best and prepare for the worst, realizing that is one potential outcome that we will be back fully in business playing games as normal in front of fans on schedule. But it's certainly not the only outcome.
"And I think what was implied there was to say we are not at a point where we are saying that is absolutely not going to happen so we should continue our planning and preparations as if we're going to be able to do that. But obviously we're going to have to evaluate that along the way. And follow what the recommendations are from public health officials and from our infectious disease experts and others."