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Rescheduling decisions call into question competitive inequities

Scheduling decisions in the pandemic have raised questions of fairness.



The NFL on Wednesday announced that it would be postponing tomorrow’s Ravens at Steelers game until Sunday due to the Ravens sending at least 10 players to the Covid-19 injured reserve list this week after positive tests started filtering through to the media on Monday morning. NBC will carry the game at 1:15 p.m. Eastern on Sunday afternoon.

This has raised questions of fairness due to the NFL deciding not cancel the Thursday night game earlier this month between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. In that game, the 49ers were down several starters due one player, receiver Kendrick Bourne, testing positive and sending another three players who were his close contacts, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Trent Williams, to the Covid-19 injured reserve list for a minimum of five days.

The questions began pouring in about why didn’t the NFL postpone that game until the weekend either and pointing to the obvious inequities of having the team’s best offensive players out for a critical game, leaving fans feeling slighted and cheated while other games get postponed to a later date. But the situations were different.

Under the NFL’s latest Covid-19-reserve list rules, players in close contact with a positive case must isolate for five days and can return on the 6th day if the fifth day of testing produces a negative test. Under the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close contact is defined as 15 minutes of exposure within six feet in a 24-hour period. Players who test positive must have two negative tests before they’re allowed to return to the facility for team activities. Bourne’s test came back positive on Wednesday and Thursday so he was cleared to return Friday after the game along with his close contacts, who also tested negative.

In the 49ers case, they had one positive test with three close contacts, who, if they’re abiding by the rules, would not have been able to play in the Thursday night game even with positive tests. They would’ve been able to play at a later date like Sunday or Monday. By the time the news broke of the positive test and isolations, the Packers were already on their way to Santa Clara on that Wednesday before the game so the NFL decided to keep the game as scheduled with the outbreak isolated and contained to those few players. The rest of the organization was allowed to return to work on Tuesday night for practice, too.

In the Ravens case, the organization continued to test positive throughout the week with six reported cases on Monday and another four on Tuesday, prompting the NFL postpone the game until Sunday and giving the Ravens time to get their outbreak under control and players to return negative tests. The NFL, for all its flaws, presumably does not want to risk an outbreak that spreads to other teams. They’re having a hard enough time containing it as it is with multiple players each week testing positive.

Then, there is the issue of scheduling. Fans complained that they already moved one Thursday night game due to the coronavirus, so why not the 49ers/Packers? But the NFL moved that Thursday Night Football game to the following Monday afternoon because the Bills had a shortened week due to another postponement to Tuesday night. The Tuesday game was the result of the Titans outbreak. So the NFL really had no choice but to postpone the Thursday game to date later the next week.

These are the challenges the teams and league face in the middle of global pandemic with cases, deaths, and state-wide closures on the rise. Some teams are bound to be “screwed” as a result. This isn’t to say the NFL has handled this perfectly either. They had a number of options at their disposal for how to conduct this season and could’ve found a way to build in extra bye weeks and prolong the season by 2 or 3 weeks. They could’ve decided to not play at all and not put players and fans at risk. But if there are going to be games, then all parties should understand that this is the world we currently live in and guidelines around covid are bound to change at a moment’s notice. For now, the league is doing the right thing by postponing the game and limiting their player’s chances for exposure.

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