Opinion: Is NFL schedule release just a tease?

Come hell or high water, the NFL is having their season this fall.

Everything we’ve seen from the biggest sports league in America points to a full, 17-week season in 2020. And, considering they’re a $10 billion-a-year industry, can you blame them?

On Thursday night, the NFL released the 2020 regular season schedule, just as they always do. Fans are rightfully excited, not only at the prospect of the biggest matchups on their team’s schedule, but because we all need a little release from these trying times.

But, is the NFL just setting themselves — and in relation their fans — up for failure?

According to Pro Football Talk, there’s an “extremely small” chance there won’t be a season at all. The NFL is hoping on a ramping up in testing availability by the time the season starts this fall. That will have to include tests for the players, trainers, the public etc. as well as the antibody testing, which will let people know if they’ve had the virus or not.

The only problem? The lack of testing currently available makes all of that seem like a pipe dream.

You’re pumped for that Week 3 matchup, when the Broncos host the “Tompa” Bay Buccaneers? Well, you should pump the brakes. The 2020 season kickoff could (and likely will be) delayed.

And in terms of seating at the stadiums, there won’t be a “checkerboard” arrangement; fans can’t stay apart from one another when entering stadiums, buying concessions or using the restroom. That seems to mean there won’t be fans in the stands, which is an option, but the league would rather everything be “normal” instead of accepting a new normal.

Really, getting excited for any matchup on your team’s prospective schedule is foolish. At least, right now.

Yes, we’re seeing sports beginning to come back to life. Specifically, in Korea, where their professional baseball league the KBO started play back up on May, 4. If they can play, why can’t the NFL?

Two reasons: South Korea’s testing has out-paced America’s by a landslide, and baseball just isn’t football in terms of person-to-person contact.

Korea’s population is much smaller than America’s, but they jumped on testing weeks before the US and they’ve continued to do a better job of it throughout this pandemic. And, in terms of the sports themselves, baseball players are rarely within six feet of one another, unless they’re in the batter’s box or on first base. Conversely, offensive and defensive linemen are going into hand-to-hand combat on every snap.

Those beefy, 300-pounders are not only getting their hands all over their opponent, but breathing heavily right in his face as well. Any time a player is tackled, there’s more person-to-person contact and a possible transmission of the virus from player-to-player.

And, even though we might place them on a warrior’s pedestal, football players are just people who are also susceptible to becoming very sick, or even dying.

Broncos’ safety Kareem Jackson is one of the most-feared, hardest-hitting players in the NFL. And yet, he seems worried about the virus, saying there should be no football until it’s “100 percent safe.”

“I just think for us it doesn’t make sense to play any games unless it is completely, 100 percent safe for us to go out there,” Jackson said in a conference call online. “If there is any threat to us being able to contract COVID of any way and spread it to our families or anybody else that we’re around, it just doesn’t make sense.”

And, what about playing safely, but without fans?

“I think I heard them saying something about us playing with no fans and all that,” Jackson said. “That will be like practice. In my opinion that would suck.”

We’ve dehumanized football players a bit over the years. They get hit in the head, we “ooh” and “ahh.” In that same vein, some fans want players on the field; arguing it’s not really unsafe at all.

What do fans care if players contract COVID-19? They’ll likely be OK, right, like Von Miller, who already has recovered from the virus.

But, what happens when an NFL player — or even a star — dies from COVID-19? Playing the game without all the safety protocols, rushing back to the league in the middle of a pandemic and pretending everything is “normal” could result in just that.

Fans want the NFL back, period. We want something to distract us from the pandemic, from politics and, for some, their loss of employment.

However, expecting there to be a full, 17-week season and for it to kick off in September, with fans in the stands; it’s just not likely at this point.

And, right after the NFL schedule was released, Commissioner Roger Goodell tried to temper excitement by saying things will change if they need to.

“We will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this off-season in safely and efficiently conducting key activities, such as free agency, the virtual off-season program, and the 2020 NFL Draft,” Goodell said in a release.

But, the NFL can’t just have virtual games, the players have to be able to safely play on Sundays.

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