It’s that time of year when NFL teams should be heading into their final month of operations before wrapping the offseason with a full squad veteran minicamp in mid-June. Instead, the league’s power brokers are still trying to figure out when franchises across the country will be allowed to resume their operations — and if there is any hope of training camps or the regular season starting on time.
Murphy said on Tuesday that professional sports may resume practices and actual games in the state as soon as leagues allow teams to do so. On Wednesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that his state will allow practices and games without spectators as long as the leagues have a safety plan approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Health once the state enters the “yellow” and “green” phases.
Newsom took a strong lockdown approach in early March to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 18, he offered an optimistic outlook for pro sports operating in the country’s most populous state.
On May 15, the NFL, via leaguewide memo from commissioner Roger Goodell, gave the green light for team facilities to partially open starting Tuesday. That opening is subject to teams adhering to state and municipal regulations, and no more than 75 people can be in a building. The coaching staff isn’t allowed in facilities in an effort to “ensure equity among all 32 clubs.” Also, only players rehabilitating injuries and seeking medical treatment are permitted in during the partial re-opening.
What the 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.
Most recent projection (May 12): Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted that professional sports teams would be free to resume operations with a “limited” reopening on May 16. Ducey indicated there would be no fans allowed as part of those operations and that franchises would be expected to “implement public health protections and CDC guidelines” as part of the reopening process.
Most recent projection (May 18): Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the loosening of restrictions for the majority of the state’s counties. Newsom said he could see pro sports operating without fans beginning in June if the infection rate remains at a flattened pace.
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.
(Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Most recent projection (May 13): Gov. Ron DeSantis has stated that sports can resume soon in his state, and he invited all professional sports that are shut down in other places to migrate to Florida and play out their seasons.
“What I would tell commissioners of leagues is: ‘If you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for ya in the state of Florida,’ ” DeSantis said at a news conference. “Because we think it’s important, and we know that it can be done safely.”
Speaking specifically of the NFL, DeSantis also told Fox News: “I’ve already spoken with some of our colleges, like the University of Florida. They got a great football stadium, the Swamp, that’s not used on Sundays. So if an NFL team needs a place to land, we could work that out, too.”
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 (May 13): Gov. Larry Hogan is lifting the state’s stay-at-home order on May 15 and has indicated an ease to business restrictions moving forward from that date. However, rules against gatherings of more than 10 people will remain in place in the initial phase of easing restrictions. Hogan has not specifically addressed the fall slate of NFL games or fan attendance, but his plan appears to open the way for operations to resume into a normal schedule in the coming months.
(New England Patriots)
Most recent projection (May 29): Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that he’ll issue an order allowing pro sports teams to resume practicing as Massachusetts transitions to Phase 2 in its re-opening plans.
Baker’s four-phase reopening plan started May 18. 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.
“We’re anxious to try to get everybody back up and going as soon as it makes sense,” Baker said. “The goal of the reopening plan is to methodically allow certain businesses, services and activities to resume, protecting public health and limiting a possible resurgence of new COVID-19 cases. … We would like to have a successful opening. Part of the way we have a successful phased opening is people pay attention to and act on the guidance. That, at this point, is sort of universally understood and appreciated as stuff that people can do. People need to understand how important what they do is as individuals and organizations is going to be to the success of reopening as we go forward.”
Most recent projection (May 12): Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a radio interview with WQKI that there is optimism that football could be played in the fall but said the games would likely be without fans.
“There is reason to feel some confidence here,” Whitmer said. “But we also have to measure [people’s] expectations and say life’s going to be different. We’re not going to be filling stadiums in the fall.”
Most recent projection (April 24): Gov. Tim Walz has not made definitive statements about the NFL’s fall schedule but is in the midst of beginning a reopening of the state beginning on May 18. Walz did make previous comments in April regarding the difficulties of staging the wildly popular state fair at the end of August — giving comments that could ultimately reflect on whether NFL games will be returning and if fans would be allowed to view them.
“I wouldn’t make a definitive call [on the fair], but I also don’t want to give any false hope on this,” Walz said in April. “I think it will be difficult to see a State Fair operating. … I don’t know how you social distance in there.”
(Kansas City Chiefs)
Most recent projection (May 13): Gov. Mike Parson has not addressed the NFL’s fall schedule or attendance by fans, but his office has been in communication with the league about future plans.
(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.
Before Monday, California’s Newsom cast significant doubt on NFL games being played in his state. Washington’s Inslee has said he could envision games being played with fan limitations but said the prospect remains up in the air until there is more clarity on the spread of COVID-19 in the summer. Polis has yet to make a definitive statement. The fifth governor, 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.
(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 18): After Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeatedly expressed skepticism on the NFL schedule starting on time, as well as the possibility that games are played with fans in the stands, he said on May 18 that he “[wants] to watch the Bills.”
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
“I have been encouraging major sports teams to plan re-openings without fans but the games could be televised. New York State will help… Whoever can reopen we are a ready, willing and able partner. Personal disclosure, I want to watch the Buffalo Bills.” pic.twitter.com/HvAPkX4cy3
— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) May 18, 2020
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 (May 14): Gov. Roy Cooper has not made substantial comments on the NFL schedule in the fall, but began a multiphase reopening of the North Carolina economy 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 (May 14): Gov. Mike DeWine gave some element of guidance on football in the fall when he told The Toledo Blade that Ohio State could have a college football season in 2020. However, he expressed skepticism and caution, raising the question of whether fans could be in attendance.
“Well, look, first of all, it’s much, much too early,” DeWine told the Blade. “The one thing we’ve found about this virus is there’s a lot we don’t know about it. We’re going to have respect for it. … I would certainly think [Ohio State] could figure out how to do a season. Can we go watch them? I think it’s much too early to be making that [decision].”
(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 (May 6): Gov. Greg Abbott has opened the state at an aggressive pace, with the reopening of gyms one of the final hurdles that will be cleared on May 18. Abbott has 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 (May 14): 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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