The NFL will not follow a postseason format similar to the other major United States professional sports.
While the NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS all played their 2020 postseasons in some form of bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL won’t require any sort of bubble when its playoffs kick off next month.
According to ESPN, the league office sent a memo to teams Tuesday stating that organizations cannot create mandatory local bubbles during the playoffs, but they can offer players hotels on a voluntary basis.
"This decision is based upon an analysis of the frequency of positive cases in the league compared to the risk of significant spread among players and staff gathered for an extensive period of time at one hotel," reads the memo, which was posted in full by The Monday Morning Quarterback’s Albert Breer.
The coronavirus will continue to impact sports into 2021, as the NCAA will hold its Division I men’s basketball tournament in a single geographic area and MLB owners reportedly want to delay the start of baseball season. However, the NFL has opted to stick with the existing protocols the league has been working under during the regular season.
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All 32 teams have been operating with extensive protocols since November. ESPN reported that NFL’s infection rates have dropped significantly since the increased focus has put on physical distancing and masks.
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According to ESPN, the size of NFL teams compared to the other professional sports would make a bubble a logistical challenge. But there are options for players and staff members who feel more comfortable in a bubble-like setting. Individuals who choose to stay in a team-sponsored hotel during the postseason will be required to wear electronic tracking devices.
The league memo also stated that mandated daily testing will continue for seven days after a team completes its season.
The NFL playoffs are scheduled to run from Jan. 9 through Feb. 7.