Amid the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in America, the NFL is pressing forward with plans to keep the 2020 regular season on schedule.
The league told its 32 teams Thursday that they can proceed to host training camps at the end of July, which is typical.
The @NFL advised teams that training camps are expected to begin as scheduled on July 28 with rookies and selected players permitted to report earlier. https://t.co/ZnSybQsTWD pic.twitter.com/B16LT1qMTX— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) June 29, 2020
What state bodies are saying about the NFL season carries weight. And while it’s all speculative until the pressure point of a late July opening rolls around, some of the governors with significant power over the process have made some telling comments or put forth important guidelines.
With that in mind, we looked at all 23 states with teams in play and focused on what the governors have been saying about the NFL’s fall schedule or their plan to reopen their states to normal business coming out of the summer.
The list …
Most recent projection (June 30): A spike in coronavirus cases in Arizona put a halt to the state’s re-opening process. Gov. Doug Ducey announced the closure of movie theaters, gyms, bars and water parks for at least 30 days. Gatherings of 50 or more people are also prohibited.
Ducey, however, also hinted the closures might not affect the Cardinals and their training camp much. “I don't think anything has changed in terms of if a professional league wanted to play,” he said. “It would be about the participation from a fan basis at this point in time.”
Most recent projection (June 29): Like Arizona, California is seeing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. Los Angeles County, the home of the Chargers and Rams, is facing 100,000 cases.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is pulling back on the re-opening of the state weeks after declaring a sunnier outlook, particularly for pro sports teams.
The Rams and Chargers will still be featured in HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series during training camp. “I mean, we’re going to social distance but we play football?” Rams head coach Sean McVay told the Los Angeles Times. “Hey, this is really hard for me to understand all of this.”
Most recent projection (June 18): Colorado allowed outdoor events, such as rodeos, concerts, markets and more, to reopen as long as “physical distance can be maintained,” according to the state’s website. Venues must limit capacity based on their size, and a maximum of 175 people is the “limit for areas of ‘medium’ viral spread.”
The state is currently in a “Safer at Home” phase with the reopening of retail stories, restaurants and gyms.
Gov. Jared Polis said in May that his state is poised for pro sports to be played without fans. “We’re certainly ready as soon as the leagues are ready,” Polis told The Athletic’s Nicki Jhabvala.
Spoke to @GovofCO about pro games w/o fans resuming in CO: "We’re certainly ready as soon as the leagues are ready. I talked to the (MLB) commissioner today. I think their protocols look really good and we’re certainly excited to get them going as soon as they’re ready to go.”— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) May 18, 2020
Polis previously indicated he’d likely follow the lead of the Western States pact — a joint effort between officials in Colorado, California, Washington, Nevada and Oregon to determine the best moves to combat COVID-19. Three other governors in those states (California’s Newsom, Washington’s Jay Inslee and Nevada’s Steve Sisolak) will also be making their own decisions with NFL franchises.
Most recent projection (June 26): The Sunshine State has had an explosion of coronavirus outbreaks. It has raised concerns over the NBA’s plans to resume its season in its “bubble” at Disney World in Orlando.
Still, the NFL announced on Thursday that training camps will be held on time in late July.
Most recent projection (June 16): Gov. Brian Kemp signed an order allowing spectator sports to reopen on July 1, but professional sports teams are required to adhere to their leagues’ specific guidelines.
Kemp told UGASports.com in May that it was still too early to decide whether or not fans would be allowed to attend college football or NFL games this fall.
“Look, I’m optimistic, and I want to see it happen. But you can’t guarantee that yet. I don’t know what that will look like. I said recently I don’t know if that looks like a capacity crowd on Labor Day night or no fans at all. I think we’ve got to wait and see,” he said.
Most recent projection (May 27): Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a daily coronavirus briefing that even though he wants sports to resume in the state, he did not think that fans would initially be permitted to attend games.
“Look, I am as anxious as I think many people are to get our sports up and running,” Pritzker said on May 27. “The problem is we can’t put spectators in the stands today. There’s just no way to do that safely, according to the doctors. They’ve actually come up with reasonably good plans, each one of the leagues. And I'm anxious, starting with baseball, to get baseball up and running again. I’m hopeful to be able to do that going into July.”
On May 7, Pritzker directly addressed the NFL’s prospects.
“If the nation isn’t in a state where we can have tens of thousands of people together in a stadium, then I don’t think you’re going to see football opening up to having fans in the stands,” Pritzker said. “… However, you may know that many of the leagues and teams — and I have spoken with many of them — are considering opening their seasons or continuing their seasons without fans in the stands so that people can enjoy sports online or on TV.”
Most recent projection (June 12): Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the state is into Stage 4 of its reopening plan with gatherings of up to 250 people who maintain social distancing of at least six feet apart. The resumption of sporting events is effective July 4. Holcomb has not addressed the NFL season with specificity, but his full reopening in July suggests that football games will be played as scheduled in the fall. There have been no guidelines set forth on fan attendance.
(New Orleans Saints)
Most recent projection (June 22): Gov. John Bel Edwards decided to keep the state in its Phase 2 of reopening plan for another month because of a spike in positive cases and hospitalizations, which means contact sports remain closed.
In April, he said that he wasn’t prepared “to go down that road to talk about what the situation will be this fall” and has left open the question of when NFL games would return to Louisiana. He added that if games returned and fans were present, “There are gonna have to be some precautions taken and what those might look like, I don’t know.”
(Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins)
Most recent projection (June 2): Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the state’s stay-at-home order on May 15 and eased business restrictions in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening. Among businesses that remained closed were fitness centers. Hogan has not specifically addressed the fall slate of NFL games or fan attendance.
(New England Patriots)
Most recent projection (June 19): The Patriots announced that season-ticket holders who are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, due to age or underlying health conditions can skip the season entirely and still hold onto their season tickets for the 2021 season. The Patriots are still planning to host fans, but will not punish fans who don’t feel comfortable attending games.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s four-phase reopening plan started May 18 and is currently in Phase 2. Baker hasn’t given significant guidance on the NFL’s fall schedule or the potential attendance of fans — suggesting instead that the state would adjust as it goes and make determinations on the virus-testing data that comes back as the opening continues though each phase.
Most recent projection (June 25): Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order allowing pro sports to resume in the Great Lakes State but without fans.
“While this is an encouraging step in the reopening of our economy, it is critical for athletes to continue social distancing and taking precautions to stay safe,” Whitmer said in a statement, via the Detroit Free Press. We want to keep our momentum going and keep moving forward, so it’s incumbent on everyone doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Most recent projection (May 28): Gov. Tim Walz said that spectator-less pro sporting events are a possibility in his state this summer, paving the way for the NFL to go on as scheduled in the fall.
“I certainly think if you’re looking in the short term, it’s not going to be with spectators ...” Walz said in a news conference on May 28. “... I think there’s a potential that that’s how we’re trying to move.”
There are no concrete plans for whether or not fans would be allowed at NFL games.
(Kansas City Chiefs)
Most recent projection (June 24): The Chiefs will hold training camp at Arrowhead Stadium, but has not yet said if fans will be allowed to attend.
The state is currently in Phase 2, with no limitations on the amount of people allowed in a gathering as long as they adhere to social distancing. Under this guidance, the Chiefs presumably could allow some fans to attend training camp — and games in the fall — but they have not explicitly laid out plans to do so.
(Las Vegas Raiders)
Most recent projection (May 11): Gov. Steve Sisolak has indicated he’ll likely follow the lead of the Western States pact — a joint effort between officials in Colorado, California, Washington, Nevada and Oregon — when it comes to opening to large events such as NFL games. The Western State pact has been an effort for the five states to work together to determine what they believe is the best route to operate and open under COVID-19 protections. It’s notable that three other governors in those states (California’s Newsom, Washington’s Inslee and Colorado’s Polis) all have NFL schedules to consider.
(New York Giants, New York Jets)
Most recent projection (May 26): Gov. Phil Murphy said professional teams in the state can return to practice and actual games as soon as the leagues resume.
UPDATE: Professional sports teams in NJ may return to training and even competition – if their leagues choose to move in that direction. We have been in constant discussions with teams about necessary protocols to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, and personnel. pic.twitter.com/yMrCFtSyqY— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) May 26, 2020
Murphy signed an executive order last week that allows teams to use their facilities if personnel are also in attendance.
Most recent projection (May 24): Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that pro sports teams can hold training camp as long as they adhere to the state’s coronavirus protocols. Cuomo said on May 18 that he “[wants] to watch the Bills.”
Cuomo pledged that New York state would help professional sports leagues resume, even if that means without fans. He said that games would still provide positive economic impact because they can be televised.
“New York state will help those major sports franchises do just that,” he said. “Hockey, basketball, baseball, football, whoever can reopen we’re a ready, willing and able partner.”
Most recent projection (June 26): Gov. Roy Cooper extended the state’s “Safer At Home” executive order through July 17 and implemented a mask mandate in the state as plans to reopen slowed down considerably. Cooper has vetoed state legislation that called for gyms and other fitness facilities to reopen.
He has not made substantial comments on the NFL schedule in the fall, since the multiphase reopening of the state began on May 8. He has said that any future decisions about businesses and gatherings would lean on the data that flows in during each phase of reopening the state.
“Our COVID-19 decisions are guided by the data and science,” Cooper said. “We’ll use the time in this [Phase 1] to keep a careful eye on the indicators before we are ready to announce the start of Phase Two.”
(Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns)
Most recent projection (June 25): The first major coronavirus cancellation of the NFL season affects Ohio. The Hall of Fame Game, originally scheduled for Aug. 6 in Canton featuring the Cowboys and Steelers, was canceled.
Before the cancellation, Gov. Mike DeWine wasn’t optimistic that fans would have been able to attend the HOF Game. The NFL regular season is set to kick off just more than a month after the now-canceled HOF Game, but there has not been a definitive statement as to whether fans would be allowed to attend those games.
(Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers)
Most recent projection (May 27): Gov. Tom Wolf announced that professional sports could resume in the state during the “yellow” and “green” phases of Pennsylvania’s reopening. The counties housing the Eagles and Steelers are both in the “green” phase. However, any sporting events would take place without fans.
Teams will only be allowed to practice or hold games if their leagues have developed a “COVID-19 safety plan” that has been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, state officials said.
Most recent projection (May 31): Gov. Bill Lee reopened the state at the beginning of May but has continued to extend social distancing guidelines. He told Paul Finebaum at the end of May that he was eager to see sports come back.
“Sports is more than just something fun on the weekend, it’s become so much a part of our everyday life and our culture and we miss it,” Lee said. “It’s a part of feeling normal, and it’s part of the reason I want to get live sports back.”
However, according to the governor’s website, “contact sporting events and activities are prohibited.” Lee has not made a substantial statement about the opening of the NFL season or potential fan attendance, but his rollout plan is aimed at continuing to move the state back to normal business into the fall.
(Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans)
Most recent projection (June 15): Several members of the Cowboys and Texans reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. However, the players reportedly did not contract the virus at team facilities. Texas is currently in the throes of a major COVID-19 surge, with the state setting records for hospitalizations in the week the players tested positive. City officials are considering new stay-at-home orders and could possibly turn the Texans’ NRG Stadium into a temporary COVID-19 hospital.
Gov. Greg Abbott not made significant statements about the NFL’s fall schedule but has a close relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who is on President Trump’s advisory committee for opening the country. Texas appears aimed at a return to all normal business by the fall.
Most recent projection (June 5): Gov. Jay Inslee announced that professional sports can resume in Washington, provided certain benchmarks are met. Provided they meet the guidelines, teams will be allowed to resume play regardless of the reopening phase their respective counties are in.
Here are the guidelines:
Following agreed-upon “league-wide and team-specific ‘return to play’ safety plans”
Having that league-wide plan approved by either the player’s union or the association representing players
Reporting the target date for resuming practice and play to respective county health departments
Keeping games spectator free
It’s worth noting that Washington is part of the Western States Pact, a joint effort with officials in Colorado, California, Nevada and Oregon to navigate reopening under coronavirus restrictions.
Oregon’s Kate Brown does not have an NFL team to consider but has already announced that large gatherings such as sporting events will be prohibited through at least the end of September. The decisions of other governors in the pact could have an impact on Inslee’s decisions.
(Green Bay Packers)
Most recent projection (June 6): Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy said that he expects “college football will be played this year,” and that would portend well for the NFL.
“Like the NFL, the colleges have three months before the football season will start, and we will both be able to learn from the other sports over the next few months to see what works and doesn't work in terms of holding games,” he wrote in a Q&A.
In May, Gov. Tony Evers had his stay-at-home order thrown out by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, raising some question over whether Evers may have any say over when the NFL season can resume in the state. Evers reacted to the court decision by calling Wisconsin “the wild west” on MSNBC and said the decision wiped out any statewide measures in place to guard against coronavirus.
“There are no restrictions at all across the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “… So at this point in time … there is nothing that’s compelling people to do anything other than having chaos here.”
If that court decision remains the status quo, the city of Green Bay or Brown County could be the only bodies that could restrict NFL games or the attendance of fans.
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