NFL fans can potentially expect bedlam this football season, assuming it eventually kicks off as expected. As it stands, the league is still pushing forward with an expectation the regular season will begin on time in September, but has been forced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to shave the preseason down to only two games -- as CBS Sports noted in mid-June and quarterback Philip Rivers mentioned in a conference call with the NFLPA.games in August altogether and to allow for players to have the right to opt-out in 2020. These are just a few issues that must be ironed out going forward, but there are many others,
Rivers, 38, is readying to suit up in his first year as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, but already has eyes on Super Bowl LV -- along with what impact the novel coronavirus might have on it. The eight-time Pro Bowler posed the question of what would happen if a player tests positive for COVID-19 just ahead of the Big Game, but is asymptomatic, would he be forced to miss it?
The league indirectly addressed the question on the same day Rivers posed it, by way of a round of new coronavirus protocols released to all 32 teams on July 3, and depending on the timing of the positive result for the asymptomatic player (or coach, for that matter); players won't like the answer.
Based on the above flowchart released by the NFL, a player who tests positive for COVID-19 but shows no symptoms has but two avenues of travel. They will either be sidelined/quarantined for 10 days following the test, or for only five days, but the latter requires two consecutive negative tests within a 24 hour period and clearance from the respective team's physician after the physician consults with both Infection Control for Sports (ICS) and the NFL Chief Medical Officer. This obviously leans much more toward the answer to Rivers' question being a "yes" than a "maybe", and those who test positive and show symptoms are virtually guaranteed to miss the Super Bowl, hence the aforementioned potential bedlam -- the level of competitive disadvantage being directly tied to who the infected might be.
For context, All-Pro running back Ezekiel Elliott recently tested positive for COVID-19 and had it occurred in the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys losing the two-time rushing champ during the postseason is not the equivalent of their opponent potentially losing a fourth-string safety, and neither match the possible loss of a team's franchise quarterback with a Lombardi trophy on the line. The number of possible scenarios such as this -- in which the coronavirus can shift the tectonic plates beneath the NFL -- is absolutely dizzying, but very much a risk the league will be faced with if there is to be a season in 2020.
Establishing a level playing field during the pandemic is already a tall ask, but maintaining it will be virtually impossible.