NFL expects to play full season as scheduled despite coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: NFL Football - Super Bowl LIV - Kansas City Chiefs v San Francisco 49ers - Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Florida, U.S. - February 2, 2020 Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes celebrates with the Vince Lombardi trophy after winning the Super Bowl LIV REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) – While the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the global sporting calendar, the NFL said on Tuesday it planned to have a full season, including games in London and Mexico City, and to kick off on time in September.

With a little over five months to go before the 2020 season is scheduled to begin, the NFL has yet to entertain the idea of delaying or shortening the campaign or having its 32 teams play games in empty stadiums.

“Our planning, our expectation, is fully directed at playing a full season starting on schedule and having a full regular season and full set of playoffs,” NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash told a conference call.

“Am I certain? I’m not certain that I’ll be here tomorrow, but I’m planning on it, and same thing, we are planning on having a full season.”

A number of major sports events around the world, including the July 24-Aug. 9 Tokyo Olympics, have either been postponed or cancelled in recent weeks because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

The NFL, America’s richest and most watched sport, remains the only major North American professional sports league that has managed to avoid suspending the playing of games because of the coronavirus given its traditional late summer start date.

The league, however, has closed team facilities for the time being, cancelled its annual owners’ meeting scheduled for this week in Florida and made major changes to the April 23-25 NFL Draft in Las Vegas.

The NFL also said it was discussing a “virtual offseason” program that would allow teams to share video and playbooks with players before eventually launching into the regular season.

When asked about any contingency plans for the 2020 season Pash said the league, which plans to release full details of the schedule around May 9, remains “pretty confident” the campaign will go on as scheduled.

“All of our discussions, all of our focus has been on a normal, traditional season starting on time, playing in front of fans in our regular stadiums and going through the full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs,” said Pash.

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