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The NFL Says Its Season Will Start on Time. Here’s Why

No, they aren't building robots to play instead of humans.

The coronavirus pandemic has derailed the NBA and NHL and delayed baseball’s opening day, but NFL executives are planning on starting their 2020 season on time.

The full schedule isn’t due for release until early May, but according to executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash, the first week of games will take place the weekend after Labor Day, just as it would have without a global health crisis.

“All of our discussion, all of our focus, has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs,” Pash said in a conference call with team owners held on Tuesday. “That’s our focus.”

The NFL has been forced to alter its offseason activities. Visits with free agents and draft prospects are happening virtually, and there are even talks about holding virtual workouts with players while team facilities are closed. The draft, which takes place later this month, will also be virtual, and teams won’t be allowed to have more than ten properly socially distanced people in their “war rooms” at once.

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The league’s optimism about its regular season is founded on models from the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network that incorporate data on the spread of the disease in other countries and the effectiveness of different interventions. Apparently, they show that playing a full 16-game season (including international games) in front of stadiums full of fans starting in early September is feasible.

But forecasting five months ahead during a pandemic is an inherently fraught proposition, and the league knows that. Executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said they are “constantly contingency planning” for scenarios less rosy than a normal start to the season.