The NFL might be ready to concede this coming season could be as unprecedented as the virtual draft that concluded Saturday.
Schedule-makers are in the process of designing several versions of this season’s slate, some of which include a Super Bowl on Feb. 28, the regular season starting as late as Thursday, Oct. 15 and a season without bye weeks or a Pro Bowl, according to Sports Business Daily.
It marks a striking, but also unsurprising about-face in the league’s thinking since the end of March, when NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash said he was “planning on having a full season,” and “in the same way” as previous years. Since then commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is prepared to make changes as the coronavirus pandemic has left many professional leagues around the world, including the NFL, with uncertain futures.
The schedules are expected to be released early next month and include the standard 16-game, 17-week slate but will allow for flexibility, if necessary.
One version would delay the season’s start by up to five weeks while pushing back the Super Bowl, currently scheduled for Feb. 7, 2021 in Tampa, by as many as three weeks.
Two weeks of early-season games could be moved to the back of the season, while a third week would feature two opponents with the same bye weeks. That would eliminate each team’s one bye week.
It’s unclear whether these ideas have been discussed with the players union. The two sides recently ratified a new collective bargaining agreement through the 2030 season.
Another change would include getting rid of the frivolous Pro Bowl, which takes place the weekend between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.
The league recently announced it would officially expand its playoffs to include 14 teams, two wild-cards for each conference beginning this postseason.
Not mentioned in the report is whether the preseason or five scheduled international games still would be played under any of these scenarios.
The NFL usually begins its regular season the weekend following Labor Day, which means this season’s openers would have fallen on Sept. 10 with the regular season ending Jan. 3.
An announcement from the league next month isn’t guaranteed, according to Sports Business Daily, because the league is worried about the backlash it could face for announcing return plans with so many unknowns — even as states have begun to loosen social distancing restrictions.
Team facilities have remained closed, but over the past two weeks teams have begun a virtual offseason program, which the league says includes classroom instruction, workouts and non-football education programs.
This past weekend, the NFL held a largely successful draft that pleased sports fans desperate for entertainment.
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