Why doesn't NFL commit to daily COVID-19 testing once the games begin?

Jason Owens
·4-min read

The NFLPA announced on Wednesday that it reached a deal with the NFL to extend daily COVID-19 testing of players through Sept. 5.

At first glance, that sounds great. But on second thought — why is this even a question? Why isn’t rigorous testing throughout the season a given?

Here’s the statement from the NFLPA on the news:

“We have reached an agreement with the NFL to continue daily testing through September 5. We will continue to monitor positivity rates within each club and relevant information from each team community to inform our assessment of testing frequency ahead of the regular season.”

Testing plan not set for regular season

The deal extends an initial agreement that guaranteed daily testing for the first two weeks of training camp. It took a lot of public griping from high-profile players to reach that point. Players wanted daily testing. Team owners had to be pressured into it.

The initial two-week period addressed COVID-19 concerns as players first started to congregate in an official capacity. It allows for cases to be identified and isolated to prevent spread before the season starts.

The new deal extends that agreement through the end of training camp. It doesn’t extend into the first week of the season. The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans kick off the season Sept. 10. So why isn’t the league guaranteeing daily testing once the games start?

What MLB, NBA are doing

The NFL is not playing in a bubble. The NBA is. And so far, its COVID-19 season has been a resounding success. The NBA announced on Wednesday for a third straight week that nobody on its Disney World campus has tested positive for COVID-19.

The NFL season won’t look anything like the NBA’s. It will resemble MLB’s, which has been a disaster. Outbreaks have plagued multiple teams and forced games to be canceled. Baseball didn’t get a week into its season before the coronavirus started spreading across teams.

Baseball conducts testing every other day. While its outbreaks can’t be attributed to a lack of daily testing, there’s no downside to a more rigorous regime.

The NFL has a cautionary tale. Don’t be baseball. Take every reasonable preventative step possible.

NFL’s travel schedule will look like baseball

Like baseball, the NFL will conduct a normal schedule with players traveling to and from COVID-19 hot spots such as Houston and Miami. Players will leave practices and games to go back home as members of their communities. Some players will be responsible about COVID-19 safety. Some, inevitably, will not.

Daily testing, of course, is no panacea. It won’t prevent COVID-19 from infiltrating homes and locker rooms. But it’s a basic, necessary step to help thwart the coronavirus’ spread.

NFL goalpost.
The NFL has committed to rigorous testing through training camp. Why stop there? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Testing resources reportedly aren’t a concern

Pro Football Talk reported in July that the NFL has a deal with a private lab that it believes ensures its COVID-19 testing won’t be a drain on resources for local communities. They’re paying that lab to produce and conduct tests that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

So the concern here comes down to financing. PFT also reports the league has a deal that starts with a flat fee for a certain amount of tests with each additional test costing $125. The flat fee structure isn’t clear.

What would daily testing cost?

For the sake of this scenario, let’s assume each test costs $125 and extrapolate that across a 17-week regular season. This is an overestimate, assuming the flat fee provides a discount on that $125 cost. For 32 teams with 53-man rosters and 12-man practice squads, daily testing for each player for the entire regular season will add up to roughly $30.9 million. Add 20 coaches per team into the equation, and the number bumps up to $40.5 million.

That’s a lot of money. But this is a league that generates $15 billion in annual revenue. It won’t this year, as the pandemic is closing off multiple revenue streams, most notably at the gate. But there’s plenty of cash in the coffers.

It should be a no-brainer for franchise owners to commit to roughly $1.3 million per team to conduct the most basic of COVID-19 safety protocols for each of its players and coaches. It’s the right thing to do for the players. It’s the right thing to do to protect the game and the revenue it generates.

The NFL may very well keep extending this plan incrementally throughout the regular season. There’s no reason not to make that commitment now.

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