The National Football League and NFL Players Association are finalizing plans to cut the preseason in half from four games to two as well as delaying the start of exhibition play amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, according to industry sources and multiple reports.
Though an amended schedule has not been finalized between the league and union, the updated plan is to cut the first and last weeks of the preseason, leaving what was originally the second week of exhibition play on August 20-24, and the third spanning from August 27-31. All 32 teams would play one home game and one on the road in the revised format.
The changes are designed to give teams more time for their own training after the public health crisis forced a virtual offseason, as well as limit exposure between teams before the start of the regular season in September. And from a football development standpoint, team starters typically see the least amount of game action in the first and fourth preseason games.
Depending in part on the progression of Covid-19 there also could still be further adjustments to the exhibition schedule.
Teams are still slated to report to training camp around July 28, as affirmed last week by the league following a virtual meeting among owners.
The 2020 Hall of Fame Game, which was to kick off this year’s NFL preseason schedule, has already been canceled due to the pandemic, and there has been steady talk for several weeks about some sort of change to the exhibition calendar this summer.
Conceptually, a reduction of the preseason has already been long contemplated within the league. The games traditionally have been less popular among fans, and trimming the exhibition calendar is expected to arrive in 2021 anyway when owners as part of a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement can introduce a 17-game regular season schedule.
The league and union are continuing to develop health and safety protocols for this year’s training camp and the regular season, not unlike the process the other US major leagues have undergone in recent weeks during their own respective restart efforts. In an open letter this week to NFL players, newly elected union president JC Tretter said the organization must work vigorously for maximum safeguards.
“Professional athletes in every sport have to regularly fend off criticism that our profession should be considered less of a job and that we shouldn’t fight for protections and benefits,” Tretter wrote. “As we begin our fight for necessary Covid-19 protections, these recycled misconceptions will be used to undermine the strength of our union and the legitimacy of your career.”