The NFL Coronavirus Protocol needs to change

It’s now time to start asking questions about the NFL’s coronavirus protocols. Since September 24th, the NFL has had 26 positive coronavirus tests, 22 of which all occurred on the Tennessee Titans, and the situation keeps on worsening. Yet all feedback from league executives tells us that nothing new will be implemented any time soon. If the season wants to continue on, something needs to change.  

While the NFL commissions out both PCR and rapid-response antigen tests, the main focus is prioritized on the latter. The reason being is its cheapness and fast response time. According to the CDC, they yield a result within 15 minutes. Yet the rapid-response antigen gives a lot of inaccurate readings, giving out both false positives and false negatives. Quidel, the company who produces the most efficient rapid-response antigen tests, claims that 80% of their tests are successful in identifying if someone is COVID positive. The problem with antigen tests, however, is the way testing works overall. Tests look for a protein in their sample, and for the antigen tests, the signal that detects the proteins isn’t that strong. Furthermore, the samples must be placed into a solution that can dilute the proteins even more, creating an even higher chance for a false positive to be reported. 

This random chance of a false negative varies too much and has shown to be a serious risk on an NFL team, which allows for 70 team members (players and staff) at practices. It is reported that the true detention percent could be anywhere between 50% to 90%, with some scientists even having a 30% success rate

In contrast, the NBA has had ZERO tests come back positive since mid-July. One of the biggest accomplishments by the NBA is helping to develop a saliva-based coronavirus test with Yale University. These tests are considerably more affordable, easier than the standard RT-PCR nose swab, and known to provide results at a similar level of accuracy, with a success rate of 90%. They are also quick and quite less expensive. It doesn’t require the same level of equipment, and on a large scale, is much more accessible.

If the NFL can move to saliva-based testing, it can provide a lot of benefit to the way football operates. A huge flaw had been exposed by the Titans, with 22 positive tests during their current outbreak. The NFL does not test on game day. While testing may not be as accurate when a yield for faster test responses is warranted, it should be common sense to be tested on the day of gameday. The move to saliva-based testing can not only provide the NFL with more efficient testing, but can also allow for easy gameday testing. The cheapness of the tests, coincided with the effectiveness, can result in a safer NFL where the teams have to worry less about potential COVID outbreaks. 

The other very promising move that the NBA made was the creation of the Disney Word bubble. If players left the bubble, upon their return they would have to quarantine themselves for two weeks. Otherwise, they can’t leave the bubble. All food, living space, and entertainment was provided for. The only issue with an NBA bubble in comparison to the NFL is that the NFL houses a lot more players and coaches on each team, and the season has also already started. But there are still ways around this. The NFL has both the resources and contents to produce a bubble like this:

There are 12 games left in this season, and in order to do this some rescheduling will have to be done. The idea is to split the league into two separate bubbles, with the NFC conference playing in one area, and the AFC conference playing in another. This will likely result in a pause of the season, but if the league wants to continue the best it can; this is the solution. Similar rules from the NBA’s own bubble will apply and games should be played throughout the week. This can help make up for the loss of viewership. If 2-3 games are played each day of the week, more people will watch and it can help make up for the loss of revenue. The Eagles-49ers game for example was Sunday night, and has 11.7 million viewers. In a time of heated politics and debates, this can really benefit and provide fans with more time to watch different teams and a mental safe space from the current state of the world. 

It won’t be known for sure what could happen as the season goes on. The NFLPA has been reluctant to the bubble concept, and the NFL has already been stressful so far. We can only hope for the season to continue without many hiccups, otherwise some major changes will need to be made.