The NFL canceled one preseason game Thursday because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more expected to follow.
To no one’s surprise, the league announced that the Aug. 6 Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers will not be played this year. The Hall of Fame also canceled its enshrinement ceremony.
The 2020 class, which includes former Eagles wide receiver Harold Carmichael, will go in as part of the 2021 enshrinement.
The league is in discussions with the NFL Players Association about reducing the rest of the preseason, but nothing has been finalized.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, following a virtual meeting with the league’s owners, Jeff Pash, the league’s general counsel, said training camps still are scheduled to open on July 28. Teams will be allowed to bring in rookies and selected veterans a few days early, he said.
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, updated the owners on the plan for dealing with the pandemic, which is surging in many cities and states where the NFL has teams.
Sills said the league has been getting input from their medical advisers, the players association, infectious disease consultants, and other public health experts, as well as the federal Centers for Disease Control and the White House Task Force on the coronavirus.
“We’re setting up a very ambitious testing program,‘' Sills said. “One that will attempt to keep everyone in the team environment as safe as possible. That includes not just players, but coaches, staff, and everyone who will be together.”
Sills acknowledged that testing alone is not going to be enough to keep everyone healthy. He said it will be critical that everyone respect physical distancing, wear masks when possible, report symptoms and limit contact with individuals who may be sick, not only at the team facility but away from it.
“We’ll have very strict protocols regarding the activities at our club facilities and the exposures that happen there, as well as a very, very aggressive testing and surveillance program that will help us accomplish the goal of identifying anyone who is infected at the earliest possible state and being able to isolate them from the rest of the team environment,‘' Sills said.
No matter how hard the league tries to prevent them, COVID outbreaks are going to be inevitable. Which means every team is going to need an ample supply of replacements.
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the size of practice squads were increased from 10 to 12 players. But that number is expected to jump even higher soon.
“That’s something that’s still being discussed within our committees, our competition committee and the CEC (Management Council Executive Committee), and with the players association,‘' Pash said Thursday.
The league and the players union have had extensive discussions in recent months with engineering consultants about modifying helmets and adding protective material that might reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 from an infected player during games and practices.
“We’re trying to look at [modifications] for both practicality as well as efficacy,‘' Sills said. “We want to be thoughtful and careful. Because anytime you think about modifying equipment, you have to think about any potential unintended consequences regarding that modification. So a lot of work still is being done on that. We’ll have more to say in the coming weeks.‘'
The NFL remains hopeful that fans can attend games when the regular-season starts in September. How many remains to be seen.
“Clubs will be following state and local guidelines in terms of any guidance with respect to the ability to have fans, as well as CDC guidelines,‘' said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL executive vice president for club business and events.
If a limited number of fans are allowed to attend Eagles games, the team will determine who gets to watch.