The NFL is going full steam ahead in its efforts to play the 2020 regular season as it otherwise would, but the optimism generated by a recent report indicating the league may be able to (mostly) proceed as normal has been tempered in recent days. For instance, the CFL’s statement that it is likely to cancel its season and reports of NFL teams exploring out-of-state options for training camp feel like harbingers of things to come rather than blips in the radar.
And as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press writes, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a radio interview yesterday that she does not expect to see Ford Field, the Lions’ home stadium, full of fans in the fall. The league has said that if it plays the 2020 season, it plans to do so in front of capacity crowds, but obviously that will be dependent on each state.
“There is reason to feel some confidence here,” Whitmer said. “But we also have to measure (peoples’) expectations and say life’s going to be different. We’re not going to be filling stadiums in the fall.”
It’s unclear whether that means Whitmer is amenable to playing with partially full or empty stadiums, and as Birkett notes, the governor was interrupted before she could finish her thought. A follow-up email from her deputy press secretary did not do much to clarify matters.
“Medical experts have made it clear that COVID-19 spreads when people are in close contact with one another, and without a vaccine, our best strategy in combating the virus is to practice social distancing,” the email read. “In regards to stadiums, our administration will continue to make informed decisions on re-engagement based upon data and medical expertise.”
Even if the NFL season is delayed, it does not sound as if Whitmer is prepared to green-light capacity crowds.
“Certainly as governor I want to give people the confidence that our plan will be met on days certain,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is, COVID-19 is a novel virus and that means it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We’re learning a tremendous amount. Every week that goes by, we’ve learned so much more about this disease and what it’s going to take to keep us safe and to avoid that second wave.”
Whitmer’s stance is likely to be echoed by leaders across the country, which means that if the 2020 season does get off the ground, there will be games played without fans, and teams in more restricted states may need to play in states like Arizona, which authorized the resumption of play for major sports leagues effective May 16.
The Lions, meanwhile, issued a generic statement on the matter last week:
“The Detroit Lions are following the NFL’s lead in preparing to play a full 2020 season in front of fans. Given the evolving circumstances surrounding COVID-19, contingencies are needed and will be in place. We are evaluating all facets of the game day experience, and will do what is required to maintain a safe and healthy environment at Ford Field where our fans can feel comfortable.”