Near training camps, N.F.L. and players discuss protocols


As the sports leagues hastened to postpone or cancel events in March, N.F.L. made a bold promise to start the season on time and unchanged, Since then, the league has spent most of its usual activities, including free will, drafts and offseason, on time, albeit remotely, rather than personally.

But with the start of the training camp in just two weeks, the promise of N.F.L. to stick to his schedule faces the biggest test yet. The League and the players union have not yet agreed with the basic rules that would govern the return of players to the team’s facilities, including testing protocols and checks for the presence of coronavirus, the duration of the pre-season period, procedures for players who want to refuse to participate in competitions. season and how recover loss of income this would be the result of holding games without fans this season.

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Both sides held a conference call on Monday, but made little progress, according to union member Richard Sherman. On twitter he said he and his union colleagues were “frank” with the owners and “would not jeopardize the health of our players in these discussions.” They planned to continue the conversation on Tuesday.

In the months since new collective bargain concluded in March the league and N.F.L. The association of players continued to coordinate political issues. In June, both sides agreed on guidelines for off-season training and opening training for coaches and limited staff. Last week, they found a common language under the conditions governing the protocols for players in training camps and games, in particular, setting rules for social distance in side and dressing rooms and prohibiting jersey swaps in a post-game, a situation that attracted players anxiety on social networks, despite the fact that his union has signed.

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Finding a way to safely control more than 2,000 players for the presence of coronavirus turned out to be more difficult, and if unresolved issues are not resolved this week, players may not have enough time to go to their teams and observe the necessary quarantines, which will force the league to postpone the start of the training camp.

“The result of everything that has happened so far is that no one knows anything, there is no clear information about what should happen,” said David Kanter, an agent representing many players. “What happens on these conference calls is one question that leads to another 50 questions. The players do not know the answers, the agents do not know the answers, the union does not know the answers. ”

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Kanter crossed out a list of questions that, he said, went unanswered: will players who become infected with the coronavirus receive a salary during quarantine? Can players stay in the season without being excluded from the team? Will there be accommodation for players with pre-existing conditions? If several players in a team are infected, will the training camp be stopped?

Other major sports leagues decided to work in accordance with the same major labor rule when it comes to a pandemic: Players with preexisting illnesses can request that they not go and pay; others who are simply afraid of the virus may also sit, but they will not be paid.

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There is also debate about preseason games. Team owners can open the training camp as they wish and play up to four pre-season games per team, although they insisted that the players approve bid in halfThe League Medical Union Joint Medical Committee recommended reducing the number of pre-season games to one or two in order to reduce the risk of infection, while allowing coaches to see new players in live games so that players can get used to the new gaming day protocols. However, the union suggested eliminating all such games in order to reduce travel and the risk of infection.

Mike Tannenbaum, an ESPN analyst and former general manager for Jets, said holding at least one preseason game between teams that are next to each other will help players and coaches adapt to the new rules and prepare for games at full speed.

“This is not an ideal solution, but it will reduce the risk,” he said.

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Tannenbaum also proposed to liberalize the rules so that veterans can join the training team, so that if a player from the registry gave a positive result for the virus, the team experienced a replacement.

Then there are wider economic issues that the owners and the union are still discussing. FROM virus rages in California, Florida, Texas and other states with N.F.L. In teams, the likelihood that fans will be able to attend the games is reduced. Owners and the union must come up with a formula for how to recover lost revenue from tickets, food, luxury boxes, and goods sold on gaming days.

The owners offered to put 35 percent of the players' salaries in escrow and then return any amount that is not needed after calculating the losses. The union categorically rejected this offer, because within one year it will burden players.

“All the owners are trying to do is recover all the losses from their entire business in one year,” said Alexander Lorenzo, member of the union’s executive committee. "You can't ask a guy to go with Covid-19 and take 35% less money."

Instead, the union prefers to distribute losses for as much as 10 years by reducing the marginal wage or the amount that teams can pay players with lower annual increments. It is better for a generation of players to absorb losses for many years, during which league revenues will increase, especially after signing new broadcast deals in the next year or two. “Enough money to smooth it,” he said.

Reducing the salary limit over the years can have unintended consequences. Teams can sign up less expensive players to keep their salaries within the league, injuring experienced veterans.

“You will see many renegotiations of contracts and see how some marginalized players have cut books that might have remained,” said Timothy Derderger, a sports marketing professor at Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon. “Teams will become younger.”

The only thing all parties strive for is a wave of positive tests for coronavirus. Some players, coaches and even one owner, Michael Bidville of the Arizona Cardinalshave given a positive result, and if the experience of Major League Baseball and the other leagues that have returned is any guide, much more N.F.L. players will return to the training camp.

Unlike N.B.A. and Major League Soccer who have limited environments created to reduce the risk of infection, N.F.L. players will return home at the end of the day, which means they can often be infected.

Given how sharp infection rates are rising across the country, N.F. and the union may have to accept great uncertainty in its rules and protocols if they hope to start their season on time.

“The virus does not care about N.F.L. a calendar or someone else, said the player’s agent.

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