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Coronavirus and the 2020 College Football Season

This is an excellent summary from ESPN of the issues that face college football as it tries to figure out how on earth to play a season in 2020. The entire athletic department budget for nearly every school depends on football being played, but how do they get all the players together and safe to make it happen? Do they play without fans? Can they get players on campus soon enough to have enough training camp? Can you play college football with "student-athletes" if there are no classes being held for students at the same time? Many of these same problems are also problems for the NFL in determining how it will play its 2020 season.

This article is posted to give FO commenters a place to discuss the future of football during the current pandemic but we want to stay away from political discussions. Please keep your comments solely to a discussion of the impact of the coronavirus on football, not a discussion of all of society or unemployment or the election or whether certain politicians are to blame for where we are now. And be very careful not to call each other names and let this discussion get nasty. Thanks.

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Comments

46 comments, Last at 22 May 2020, 8:15am

1 I have no opinions about CFB…

I have no opinions about CFB, but I can't see how the NFL can actually play before 2021.

Say you restart.  Now a player tests positive.  Now what?  That player is out for 2 weeks for sure.  But do you also quarantine the whole team?  Does that mean you have to put the league on pause?

 

4 You have no choice but to…

You have no choice but to suspend the league, if only for public health reasons alone. Due to the nature of the business, one player testing positive threatens a renewed pandemic. 

33 Yes, I kind of feel we're…

Yes, I kind of feel we're grasping at straws, hoping there will be football this year. There might, but... at this point it seems more likely than not that there wont'.

16 As LAMP tests become…

As LAMP tests become increasingly available (as opposed to PCR), testing will be easier, cheaper, and a lot faster. It would be entirely feasible to test the entire team, plus coaches, trainers, assistents, etc. every single day of the season, if that's what it takes. The costs would be almost negligible and it would allow almost instant quarantining of individuals testing positive. Other cheap, fast, and very sensitive tests using SHERLOCK (CRISPR-Cas13 based protocol) are also being deployed.

The tests aren't *quite* there yet and they are still quite uncomfortable to the patient (having someone try and tickle your brain with a cotton swap through the nose is not pleasant). More data on the sensitivity and specificity of the various rapid tests is also needed. It is very likely in my reasonably-well-informed opinion that these tests will be ready, available, and sufficiently tested in a few months, half a year at the outside.

Ultimately, European football will give a good indication of what will happen when major leagues start up again. The details are not in place yet, but while there will be some testing, it won't be anything like "everyone, every day". Probably not even "everyone". The economic pressures are much the same as with the NFL, if not even greater, and  the management (club-side as well as player-side) is much less centralized - the UEFA is not the NFL, nor is FIFPro the NFLPA. Practices are imminent for most of the major leagues in Europe and games are expected to start within about 5 weeks for the English, Italian and German leagues (3 of the 4 biggest). France appears to have called off the season, but the UEFA isn't having it, so we will see what happens once the other leagues start playing games. Spain looks to be pushing the schedule to mid-summer.

TLDR; It's certainly feasible for the NFL to play games without significant player or personnel risk. The perception is a major obstacle, but ultimately plenty of other leagues will start before the NFL (or NCAA) and their success or failure would probably shape whatever path the US leagues take.

 

42 My impression is that tests…

My impression is that tests may not catch pre-symptomatic but already infectious individuals. That suggests that testing might struggle to prevent infection ripping through a squad if anyone gets it.

43 Test sensitivity in…

Test sensitivity in asymptomatic individuals is likely lower, although there doesn't appear to be any solid data. The tests, whether OCR or LAMP based, rely on the ability to actually gather material from the patient that contains (sufficient) virus. It is likely that individuals without symptoms have lower viral loads. So far, the highest sensitivity has been anecdotally reported in patients with phlegm, but far from all those sick (and with symptoms) have phlegm.

The FDA approved a salvia-based test a few weeks ago and many common tests use nasal swabs. 

Basically, in order to test with high sensitivity, you need to find a way to consistently gather enough material that would contain virus, if the patient is infected.

I'm not aware of any studies that compare sensitivities if the various coronavirus protocols. That's clearly something the league will have to get a handle on.

2 The NFL not playing sort of…

The NFL not playing sort of makes sense - in the long term players and owners split revenue, so everyone would lose out but somewhat equally.  Plus the teams are so lucrative they can probably finance the medium-term and short-term costs.

College without athletics would need massive layoffs and cutbacks on scholarships just to get through the near-term (or the political and economic capital to take on tens of millions of athletic debt to avoid these) at a time when campuses are dangerously overlevereged and enrollment is expected to start plummeting irrespective of coronavirus (ok technically not supposed to happen until 2022-2024, but very close). 

Playing in empty stadiums would have the same problems: optics are terrible and the amount of money lost would be devastating (though less so than no games).

I don't see any solution to this for college sports except to hope that vaccines come faster than anticipated.  A spring 2021 football season would work, and honestly the difficulties associated with one would be relatively minor in comparison to making up for the magnitude of lost revenue.  But if you put off and then cancel the season, I don't really see how college football survives in its current form unless alumni are willing to donate the years worth of revenue.

3 There's going to be a…

There's going to be a tremendous battle between lost revenues and public health. The restaurant, leisure, and airline businesses are practically in the grave and just ready for the coffin to slam shut. Once the lockdown gets eased(it will never completely go away until we have a working vaccine), these businesses will have to adapt to a contagion world.

I think fan attendance is basically moot at this point. It's a hard no, even if it wasn't being outlawed. The next question, can a league operate in a contagion environment? 

Once a player tests positive, you have to worry about everyone. Who that player came in contact with on your own team, your own staff, the opposing teamSSSSS that he played against during the period of incubation, and all of the refs that were present on the field. Guess what? Once you do the factorial math, everyone in the nfl is potentially exposed by that one player. 

 

 

 

 

5 Yup.

"There's going to be a tremendous battle between lost revenues and public health. "

Really, it's already started in the general case.   And the battle will only intensify (and probably get uglier) as time goes on.  

7 I meant specifically for the…

In reply to by serutan

I meant specifically for the NFL and CFB, as their seasons havent started.

 

We are in a deep, ugly recession right now that is going to get worse. Right now, only the businesses feeling the immediate shockwaves from the lockdown are affected. But eventually, that pain gets circled through the rest of the economy and we all get affected. 

 

I pose this again to the commenters at large. We are right now trading an economic calamity in order to avoid a pandemic. California has extended the lockdown till June. At what point are we going to cry uncle because I just cannot fathom a straight lockdown like this beyond August. 

9  I saw a report on the BBC a…

 I saw a report on the BBC a couple of weeks ago that the German government thought a lockdown could only be sustained for 3 months.   This would translate to mid-late June for just about all the states.   I have my doubts it will last that long. 

32 There have been a lot of…

In reply to by DoubleB

There have been a lot of comparisons to The Spanish Flu and when you say "come back with a vengeance", that's where my mind goes - so apologies in advance if I'm putting words into your mouth!

It's worth noting that the Spanish Flu "came back with a vengeance" due to some extreme selective pressures that caused the virus to mutate to a more deadly form. The "first wave" was by all accounts no more severe than a standard flu. Under more normal conditions, the deadly mutation would likely not have been able to spread much. A number of unique factors enables this: Moving troops around the globe constantly, poor sanitary conditions, shortage of medics and medical supplies, lack of understanding of why the healthy 20-30 year-olds were dying (immune system overreacting), and an unwillingness to isolate the sick and those in contact with the sick (troops needed to go where they were supposed to fight).

So, sure, we might well see a second wave, but there's no reason to believe it will be more of an issue than the first wave. We'll see where the infection rates end up and how much protection those who have already had the disease once have, but it's easy to imagine a scenario where the second wave will have problems finding a foothold (if a significant portion of the population is effectively immune).

35 Its due to the normal flu…

Its due to the normal flu coinciding with Corona this fall/winter. "There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield told the Washington Post, saying it would likely coincide with peak flu season. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.” Two simultaneous outbreaks of respiratory infections would dramatically strain the health care system, he said.

36 It's certainly *possible*,…

It's certainly *possible*, but there are several reasons to think this is not likely, despite the weighty comment by the CDC director: The coming flu season is generally expected to be much reduced compared to normal due to both the precautions people are taking (washing hands etc) and an expected significant uptick in flu shots  - this surge happened after the 2009 pandemic as well. Look at the chart from the self-same CDC:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccine-supply-historical.htm

Steadily increasing and one massive spike following the 2009 pandemic.

Additionally, there's a significant overlap in the populations affected. And when you look at the burden placed on the health care system, the two also differ significantly; thousands of people aren't winding up on ventilators due to the flu. With respect to the precautions having a lasting effect even beyond the immediate, that's obviously not something we can know for sure, but experts seem to believe it will affect at least a couple of flu seasons.

The CDC Director's comments clearly carry significant weight. Much more so than my piddly comments, no question. However, context and job description matters. If he believes that there's a 1 in 10 chance that we may get a double whammy in 6 months, he would be negligent not to make a statement like the one he made. On the other hand, that leaves a 90% chance than it's not going to be an issue and may actually end up being more benign.

Lastly, if you look at what other researchers and other government parallels to the CDC are putting out, there is a broad expectation of one long, stretched out wave, which might surge at times, but which won't leave room for a second wave. Basically, we're not going to quench the pandemic anytime soon, so while we may have things under control while everything is locked down, there is going to be a degree of resurgence as those restrictions are eased. This will result in many smaller surges and not some sort of massive "second surge". In fact, the second wave being talked about in most countries (including the US by other epidemiologists) is the one expected this summer as a result of lifting the lock down, not something this fall coinciding with the flu.

39 The leaked CDC / Homeland…

The leaked CDC / Homeland Security document dated May 1 (and published by the New York Times yesterday) shows this "resurgence" as what appears to be a consequence of easing restrictions (it isn't stated explicitly). The significant increase starts about 14 days into the projection, both for cases and deaths. The link for the full document as provided by the Times is:

https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/6926-mayhhsbriefing/af7319f4a55fd0ce5dc9/optimized/full.pdf

We don't know the model parameters and assumptions, but it helpfully shows previous predictions providing at least *some* insight into the accuracy (cases match very well, while it underestimates deaths by a very significant margin, often up to a full order of magnitude).

Personally, I would be surprised if there is no official reaction to such an increase *if* it happens. Reports are that the White House believes a different model developed by the President's Council of Economic Advisors that sees the number of deaths per day plummet in the coming two weeks (described only as a "cubic model"). A model developed by a research center at the University of Washing, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is also used by the White House and has shown the same precipitous drop:

https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america

They are in the process of rolling out a new advanced model and framework, so I don't know if they still hold to that prediction. Since the IHME is a research institute, they actually have a large amount of publicly available data describing their model (e.g. start here: http://www.healthdata.org/covid/updates ).

Unfortunately, the IHME doesn't provide easy access to historical predictions - those are simply replaced with the "real" numbers in the interactive "live" chart with no way to access previous numbers. Googling for old published references appears to be the only way:

e.g. April 22: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/22/upshot/coronavirus-models.html (helpfully showing 5 different models, of which the IHME is BY FAR the most optimistic)

https://www.geekwire.com/2020/washington-state-covid-19-cases-keep-falling-heres-data-driving-continued-stay-home-order/

This one shows some older prediction for Washington State. Basically, the model predicted a rapid, roughly linear drop, from about 20 to 2 deaths per day from April 8 to May 1. Actual numbers look nothing like that, showing a downward-trending oscillation between 25 and 10, although the past 3-4 days have seen < 5 deaths / day. The numbers vary a bit depending on source and the official State numbers aren't final until 2 weeks after the fact. Still, the model doesn't appear to reflect the transition in any way, although if the endpoint is accurate, that's a big plus.

Sorry for geeking out a bit on this, but as someone who has developed complex models professionally for a long time (although not currently), I tend to become unreasonably exited sometimes ;-).

41 Lots of good links here. …

Lots of good links here. "cases match very well, while it underestimates deaths by a very significant margin, often up to a full order of magnitude" and looking at all causes mortality deaths due to corona are under counted by quite a bit (50% ish). https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/28/us/coronavirus-death-toll-total.html

8 No good choices

The data doesn't support this being an existential crisis to mankind.  The elderly and infirmed should be nervous, but this virus is endemic and global; nothing can change that.  It would be great to have a vaccine but they still don't have a vaccine for the common cold (also a corona virus) after decades of trying.  We should not assume we are going to get one anytime soon.  So how do we go forward with this virus and no easy way to contain it?  That is obviously difficult to answer but we should plan on long-term workarounds versus hoping a miracle breakthrough occurs in the next few months.  Get NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB, theme parks, industry, life going again.  We may wear masks and carry a bottle of purell on our hips but as long as ICUs aren't overflowing, we have to exit our disaster bunkers.  

10 Realistically, I think they…

In reply to by Bill Walshs Ho…

Realistically, I think they will do a slow relax of lockdowns. By that I mean, basic services will open first like barbershops, nail salons, dry cleaners etc etc. Everyone will wear masks and have lines to get in, but they will be open.

Restaurants will probably start to operate at half capacity with mandated 6 foot spacing between patrons and probably having self bussing for tables. I think same deal is likely for bars and night clubs.

 

Travel will also be significantly revamped, with planes operating at maybe a quarter capacity, TSA regulating space between passengers during security checks. There will probably be travel bans across countries. 

 

But mass gatherings are probably out for a while. Theme parks, concerts, sporting events, they just bring way too many people together in confined spaces from all over the country/world.  My point about the NFL was, you can take safeguards with restaurants and dry cleaning businesses because they can limit the close human to human interaction. But the nfl is a contact sport with lots of close human to human interaction. Not just the players, the equipment staff, medical staff, building operators, and the refs are all up close and in person. And they all travel. So it just doesn't seem likely. 

12 Clarify

To clarify my position, sporting leagues could play in empty stadiums.  Far from ideal but definitely doable.  Orioles once played a game without any fans during the Baltimore riots back in 2015. 

 

Yes, sports involve close contact with human beings.  Trainers & medical staff can wear PPE.  Players would run a higher risk of exposure due to the nature of the sport; cannot eliminate all risk.  They could certainly be limited in their contacts during the season though.   

 

My larger question still looms though.  Lets say it is JUL 2021 and still no vaccine.  Do we cancel that NFL season too?

22 I think by that point, there…

In reply to by Bill Walshs Ho…

I think by that point, there will be sufficient testing that even without a vaccine, you can probably mitigate a contagion.

But playing out the worst case, the only way that make sense to me is for the NFL to be on a like military barracks type situation, where all players and coaches live and dont leave that region for the season and games are all played on neutral fields 

It probably cannot be coordinated this season, but could be in a year if things continue to remain dire. 

23 You're probably right. But I…

You're probably right. But I'd bet the NFL will turn mountains to try to make it happen if that's what's needed. I'm not sure they could do it by September. But they might by November, in which case you might just do the games in the South because there aren't many domes (plus quality full-field indoor football practice facilities). They could also do it with a modified schedule in multiple locations for 14 games; six weeks for a round-robin with conference teams, four weeks with your scheduled AFC teams, four weeks with your scheduled NFC teams. This would mean the NFL could have up to four locations if they played the schedule so teams were colocated for each type of opponent. Schedule the last two same-conference, last-year-equal-position conference games at the end of the season, hoping for a vaccine by then and you'd have eight games featuring last year's division winners. The Super Bowl may be in late March, but this is the NFL and their money-making machine. I wouldn't put it past them, especially if the vaccine was widely enough distributed to allow the Super Bowl. 

24 There's no difference in…

There's no difference in risk of infection between playing in a dome and in a stadium without a roof. That's taking "indoors" vs "outdoors" and stretching it way beyond the context.

26 This sounds accurate to me…

In reply to by Bill Walshs Ho…

This sounds accurate to me. The rationale behind public lockdowns is not to stop the virus dead in its tracks, but to prevent a sudden onslaught on an unprepared healthcare system. But ultimately people have to be trusted to assess their own risk profile and, mostly, be prepared to return to normal life alongside this virus (whilst taking obvious precautions, and nullifying unacceptable risks such as mass gatherings). Football players are no different. Indeed they are vastly more privileged than most workers in terms of their access to testing and general healthcare. The NFL certainly has the means to put in place a thorough plan by September. 

There may well be scenarios where fixtures have to be suddenly postponed, or leagues suspended if there are further outbreaks. And maybe we even all have to return to lockdown. That’s fine. 

40 "ultimately people have to…

"ultimately people have to be trusted to assess their own risk profile" unfortunately humans are terrible at this. Behavioral economics shows so many ways most people incorrectly assess and behave with regards to risk.

6 The answer to the question…

The answer to the question of "Could teams play even if classes are not in session?" is yes. Teams play regularly while campuses are closed due to holidays, and have played when their school is closed due to natural disasters.

11 If colleges have decided…

If colleges have decided that they can't have in-person classes, though - and even though classes can be taught online, schools will have **massive** incentives to bring students back to campus if it's feasible - how do you justify allowing a few hundred athletes + coaches + support staff to work together in the athletics facilities? I can imagine things like splitting people up into groups to avoid overcrowding, but everyone eventually still mixes with each other. It also wouldn't help to contain a potential infection to a small group if that group was your QB room, or like your starting offense.

By the time decisions have to be made about sports, I do hope we know more about the virus, how it spreads, and how to control it (too much to hope for treatments?) that could allow for sensible paths forward that are hard to think of right now. But it does seem to me that if conditions dictate that students can't come back to campus, it's hard to imagine there will be football. And I agree with others that the optics would be horrible given what the NCAA purports to be all about, although they're so shameless at this point that maybe they'd give it a shot.

19 how do you justify allowing…

how do you justify allowing a few hundred athletes + coaches + support staff to work together in the athletics facilities?

You mean besides the millions in dollars in revenue?

13 I think the logistics of…

I think the logistics of doing games safely is so onerous it would be nearly impossible. I think the teams would essentially need to go on total lock-down once training camp starts, nobody is allowed in or out for the season and testing is done regularly. The traveling would have to be in chartered planes from private airports and the home teams would have to provide lock-downable facilities where the teams would sequester and get tested the day prior to the game. Not sure about the refs, but they would need to be in isolation as well. I see no way you could safely play in front of fans.

15 Well, unless you eliminate …

Well, unless you eliminate (weekly) travel... 

it could somewhat conceivably be (extended) tourney style. 16-20 weeks in one controlled location. If there are no fans, there is no reason to use geographically disparate stadiums. 
 

I saw somewhere the NBA is considering something like that for a potential restart/culmination of the current season. Not ideal by any means, but totally doable. 

14 I think it'll be challenging…

I think it'll be challenging but possible to make a season happen, and a big part of the question is how far they're willing to go.

For example, one option is for the whole league to fly to Australia (or some other country that has coronavirus pretty well under control) and, after a few weeks in quarantine, they can play the season there.

There are a few major challenges/question.

1) Fans. Probably there can't be stadiums packed with fans, unless they're happening someplace where covid19 is basically totally wiped out. But games can happen with no (or few) fans.

2) Limiting the spread of covid19 within the league. This seems doable once testing is more available, though at some cost of cancelled games or players missing games. Having games a week apart makes this easier, since if a person gets infected during one game that case can usually get identified before the next game.

3) Limiting the number of cases that come from outside the league. This seems like the hardest part. And the more effort it takes to stop the spread within the league (e.g. cancelling games), the more important it is to keep the number of incoming cases very low. This might involve things like going to Australia, isolating teams from the outside world (including their families?), and limiting travel.

Maybe you can do this with a bunch of smallish changes, or maybe you drastically overhaul the whole season. For example, you could find 4 places in the country which each have at least 8 practice facilities and 2 stadiums, and a decent housing situation available for 8 full teams of people. Then you divide the league into 4 megadivisions of 8 teams each and send each megadivision to one of those places to play a 14-game regular season (2 games each against each of the other 7 teams in their megadivision). No long-distance travel all regular season.

21 Neither would work

In reply to by jds

There would not be enough co-located football stadiums in either location. There are 16 games per weekend for the first few weeks and last several weeks. Three games would be Thu, Sun, and Mon nights. You could probably add another night game one night. This leaves 12 games. You could play two games on the same field on Sunday afternoons, with a third game on Sunday night. I know the NFL would hate that but the field only has to be marked for the number lines and you can use digital technology to customize the emblems midfield and in the end zones for each game. 

It doesn't have to have stands. Practice fields can also be used in a pinch. I doubt they'd be willing to use most HS stadiums, but several colleges also have outstanding facilities. You'd probably have to co-locate the teams in a metro region like Atlanta, DFW, or (somewhat ironically) LA. You could also use a central location like Orlando, then use the three Florida NFL stadiums along with USF and UCF. 

My own suggestion would be somewhere in Ohio. You can get to Cleveland, Cincy, Indy, Pitt, Detroit, and Chicago quickly. The NFL could certainly afford to rent a couple nearby university facilities with the Big Ten schools and Notre Dame, along with Cincinnati, Dayton, Ohio University and several other possibilities. 

 

17 I think it's pretty obvious…

I think it's pretty obvious at this point that there's next to no chance of having a "normal" college or NFL football season this fall.

It seems to me the real bottleneck is testing. Realistically, you have to test everyone - every player, coach, trainer, staffer, scout, medic - every week, at minimum, starting in training camp. That's something like 2000-2500 tests per week (and they have to have awfully quick turnaround times). The only way I can see that happening is if the country has ample testing available in the fall (by which I mean, tens of millions of testing kits available nationwide, and capacity to produce more quickly - otherwise it won't be palateable on a political/PR level to give thousands to tests to sports leagues). Let's just say I'm not optimistic that that will happen.

But even if you could do that amount of testing, I think it's a long shot. For 2020, it'd have to be some all-neutral-site system like the various MLB proposals, if for no other reason than polls indicate too few fans would show up to make it worth all the travel of the "normal" way, so a "normal" season is already impossible. And then there's the issue of player buy-in - I'd guess they'll be pretty split on whether they'd be willing to go along with this, being isolated from family etc. for months, and that the NFLPA will advocate against it.

But even if those hurdles are overcome, I'm not quite sure how it works. I guess everyone plays on Sunday, gets tested immediately after the game, then goes into immediate isolation while they wait for test results, results come back, anyone who tests positive is taken somewhere else, and then everyone not positive tries starts practicing? That seems tricky even if test results can be returned within 24 hours (and that's not guaranteed, with current technology, since we're talking about 80-odd tests per team).

I guess you could stagger the games so teams only play every other week. Say the NFC plays Week 1, goes in isolation for testing/results for a week, practices then plays again in Week 3, while the AFC plays Weeks 2 and 4, etc. Which is sub-optimal, but these are sub-optimal times.

But what do you do if, say, all the QBs on your roster test positive? Can you really bring someone in, quarantine them until their test comes back, then release them into your "biosphere" quickly enough to keep the team functional? Are there even enough people out there to fill the necessary roster spots every time this happens? And how do fans, media, and politicians react when it does?

It just seems to me, given how risk-averse the NFL as a whole tends to be, that they won't be able to stomach playing this way, even if everything were aligned to allow it.

For college, the neutral-site thing won't work since the players aren't employees (*cough*). However, I can sort of see a "partial" season happening wherein some (maybe most) schools simply don't play this season, but some do, depending on local circumstances (health, political, and otherwise). I really can't see the NCAA trying to force schools without in-person classes to hold in-person athletics - that's bad for everyone involved, and even worse for optics - but the best of bad options (for them) might be to leave it up to the individual schools, and try to facilitate the ones that opt to play as best as they can. For example, the California State University system (which includes a couple of D-1 FBS programs, San Diego State and San Jose State) has already announced that they will be online-only for at least the first part of the fall semester, while some B1G schools have announced that they are planning to have in-person classes, so maybe the former don't play but the latter do.

I'm not sure about travel logistics etc. (since I think college teams often travel by bus), since there wouldn't be any pretense of having a "closed biosphere" - and how that works when the players become students, since they would still have to be quarantined until their test results are obtained, i.e., before they go to class. And I'm not sure what happens to the Bowls in this case. It'd be a mess, but one I can maybe vaguely see being attempted, if circumstances in the fall are relatively positive, in certain corners of the country. It still seems pretty unlikely though.

And without massively better testing capabilities than we have right now (remember, we're talking about doing this in 3-4 months), I think playing anything is pretty much impossible.

29 You could go out at buy a…

You could go out at buy a Roche Cobas 6800 system capable of running 300+ tests (with multiple tests needed per individual) every 8 hours for under half a million. Roche doesn't disclose pricing, but the model the 6800 replaced was about $200,000 five years ago. There's a larger version with 3x the throughput as well. These are fully automated machines and, other than sample prep, require virtually no user interaction. At a reasonable run rate and with 2 tests per individual, a single 6800 could run tests for around 10,000 people a month. The cost of consumables is less than $10 a test. You can (or could, prior to the covid-19 epidemic) buy lab capacity on these systems for as low as $50 a test, depending on volume and urgency.

In other words, testing and associated equipment is not an issue. Now, if you wanted to set up a lab to house this, that would costs millions of dollars - and would be complete overkill. The NFL already has an established relationship with existing labs for drug testing and these could easily provide both the physical space and skilled personnel needed at a much lower cost than building a lab from scratch (which would then need to be certified).

Earlier in the epidemic, consumables was an issue, but lead time is down to around a week now with no effective limits on purchase amounts.

The Cobas systems perform a PCR-based test for coronavirus and although it would be possible to do all the testing the NFL required this way, it would not be ideal. There are several new tests being ramped which are much faster (and have a higher sensitivity, although somewhat lower specificity - so more false positives, but way fewer false negatives) and don't require huge expensive machines and laboratories to run the tests.

20 Interview with Fauci about…

Interview with Fauci about this at NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/sports/fauci-sports-reopening-pandemic.html

One quote "... a situation where players are going to have to come into contact, like basketball, there are certain things you can do. It may not work. I’m not saying this is the way to go, but you want to at least consider having players, if they’re going to play, play in front of a TV camera without people in the audience. And then test all the players and make sure they’re negative and keep them in a place where they don’t have contact with anybody on the outside who you don’t know whether they’re positive or negative."

25 One hurdle to the "isolate a…

One hurdle to the "isolate a healthy few" would be psychological. Groups like that will inevitably relax their internal guards, resulting in a massive infection spread from even the tiniest crack in the quarantine (because that's what it effectively would be - a quarantining of healthy players).

A larger, not as isolated group would be more likely to maintain internal barriers to infection spread (social distancing, disinfecting and washing hands, surface cleaning etc) to the point where a massive outbreak among players / personel might actually be much less probable.

There's the additional built-in flaw with the healthy-quarantining model that ANY break would be considered fatal, whereas some infected here and there would be acceptable in the more relaxed model. Again, this is largely a psychological phenomenon, but these things are hard to get around.

27 SEC going solo?

Around here a lot of people are talking that given the southern states seem to all be trying to reopen now, that the SEC would forge ahead on its regular schedule even if none of the other college football conferences do.   That seems crazy, but a recent local poll showed overhwelming support for the idea in this area if I recall right.  Seems madness to me, but...

30 I think the NFL will give it go in 2020

It's just too lucrative not to give it a go. The only live entertainment of note in 2020 would be a goldmine for the league, not just in the US but worldwide as well. I just don't sense the NFL passing up this kind of opportunity.

And I think they can do it. Quarantine the league, constant testing (and I mean constant testing), no fans, have a league corona office or something of the sort to stay on top of things.

Have 8 teams in 4 cities and play a double round-robin (14 games apiece). These cities can really be anywhere in the world. Top 16 make the playoffs or something and go from there.

The biggest hurdle, at least right now, is what to do IF someone falls ill.

44 Easy. Everyone signs waivers…

Easy. Everyone signs waivers that they “understand the risks.” Game on. 
 

I would find it hard to imagine twenty-somethings in their invincible primes forgoing million dollar seasons on a disease risk far below that of CTE.
 

If you create a closed system with its own paradigm and cultural expectations (the nfl is nothing if not this already) everything we have discussed above is irrelevant. 

45 There are PR and containment…

There are PR and containment implications. Letting infected players play on is going to make the league look heartless. Not too mention, there are elderly members on the coaching staff and referees that face a far greater chance of mortality from the virus. 

46 Player acceptance will…

Player acceptance will depend on the perception of how well the coronavirus situation is under control. Contrast what we're seeing in Britain (Premier League) with Germany (Bundesliga). The latter is up and running, while players from the former are balking at the prospect of playing. Right now the plan is to restart the Premier League on 12 June, with an option to push it a week. In Spain La Liga is also set to resume on 12 June.

All personel involved are tested regularly and the Bundesliga had a week-long quarantine of players and coaches leading up to the first round of matches. 

It's worth noting that all three leagues have players (and other personnel) who have tested positive in the run up to games / practices. The current process in those leagues is to pull and isolate the person until a set number of positive tests are returned.

Football is a bit different. Not only is there more face to face contact, but there are a lot more people involved. The Bundesliga games managed to limit the total number of people in a stadium to just over 200. That includes stadium personel, coaches, players, TV crews, etc.

Ultimately, there's plenty of space in an empty stadium, but there are a lot more substitutions in football (NFL/NCAA) than in soccer, so having the bench basically spread out over a bunch of seats in the stands like they have done in the Bundesliga may not be practical.

Still, the facemask-to-facemask issue is going to be hard to overcome. Not sure if it's realistic to play with a shield (or even cloth) covering the mouth area.

If the European leagues (and the South Korean K-League) can manage it, though, there's going to be even more intense pressure to get football up and running in some form in the US.