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NFL's Schedule Tumbles Like Jenga Pieces

Erik Drost via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the midst of the pandemic, Americans have been forced to find forms of entertainment that don’t involve getting in a car and leaving home. 

In the process, many have discovered, or rediscovered, the old fashioned family game and one of the more popular ones is Jenga. You know, the one where kids and their parents test their skill and nerve by trying to slide out wooden blocks without knocking over the whole stack. 

That game has become something of a metaphor for what the NFL is trying to do with its schedule as COVID-19 imposes its will on teams. 

In successive weeks, the league has had to pull games out of the tower as an increasing number of players test positive for coronavirus. 

Eight games have been shifted, for now, to allow for what appears to bemini-outbreaks of COVID among some rosters.

For a second straight week, the New England Patriots have seen their game rescheduled. The Patriots, whose game last week with Kansas City was moved a day, will see their game with Denver, which was slated for this Sunday moved to next Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Titans, who have seen 13 players and 11 other members of the organization test positive since September 24, saw their game with Buffalo moved to Tuesday.

This follows the postponement a week ago of the Titans’ game against Pittsburgh. That gamewas rescheduled to October 25, thus impacting the Ravens, who had been slated to play the Steelers that day.

Confused? Well, you shouldn’t be. The NFL’s stubborn-headed, money-driven approach to the virus has landed the league, its players and football fans in a precarious, but needless position. 

From the outset, NFL owners were determined to do whatever it took to play football the way it’s always been played towards the ultimate goal of losing as little cash as possible.

Oh, they made some surface changes, like skipping the hardly-missed exhibition season and by limiting the number of fans in stadiums during the regular campaign. 

But unlike the other major professional sports, the NFL never altered its operational framework to account for the virus.

Baseball drastically reduced its schedule by more than half and cut down travel. The NBA and NHL, which were already past the midway point in March, instituted bubble settings, where hundreds of players came to central locations in Florida and Canada, to stay and play. 

Baseball overcame its early missteps and appears poised to join the NHL and NBA in seeing its season to a successful conclusion.

Meanwhile, the NFL, where hand-to-hand contact is a must,  apparently didn’t make provisions for what to do if large numbers of players tested positive in a short span.

To be fair, given the more than 50 players on each roster, the idea of one league-wide bubble would not have worked in the NFL.

However, 32 enclosed camps with limited ingress and egress leading to games may have done the trick and guaranteed that there will be a Super Bowl this year, the holy grail of American sports. 

Instead, NFL fans are left to wonder and hope that stack of blocks will stay upright until February.

And that’s how I see it for this week. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.


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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.