NFL to consider playoff bubble for extra COVID-19 safety

(Photo by Chris DELMAS / AFP)

NFL playoff teams could compete for a championship next January in a playoff bubble to better protect players from COVID-19, NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said Wednesday.

Vincent said on a conference call that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton suggested a post-season bubble in the latest competition committee call, a move that would need backing from the NFL Players Association also.

"All things are on the table," said Vincent, who said the NFL used the term "secure environment" rather than "bubble" much the way the NBA has adopted "campus" to describe its quarantine environment.

The playoff bubble remains only an idea, with the league planning to start the season September 10 with Houston at reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City and a full 16 games per club to follow at team home stadiums.

Thus far, 13 NFL clubs said they do not plan to allow spectators and six others say they will have only a limited number of fans at games, trimming stadium capacity to allow social distancing. Teams will follow local government regulations in their areas.

The NBA and National Hockey League have had success with bubble quarantine atmospheres, avoiding the outbreaks that have hit Major League Baseball, which has teams traveling and playing in team ballparks rather than in a quarantine situation.

The NFL plans to use an advisory committee to handle matters such as COVID-19 outbreaks and postponements because of potential conflict of interest issues for members of the competition committee.

The league is working out how to handle possible seeding issues if teams do not play the same number of games due to cancellation of games.

The NFL has trimmed the number of people allowed on the field before games, barring cheerleaders, mascots, media and fans.

There is no decision about whether or not the NFL will continue daily COVID-19 testing beyond September 5, the Saturday before the season opens.

Traveling NFL teams, barred from leaving their hotels or eating in restaurants open to the public, will not be allowed to grab takeout food. Room service and contactless delivery will be permitted.