Then the league rescheduled the game again, this time for Wednesday afternoon.
Why not play at night, giving players who have barely practiced in recent days more time to prepare, decreasing their risk of injury? The scheduling decision hinged on television, the league’s cash cow. NBC, which will broadcast the game, wanted to stick with its plans to air the tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center during a two-hour prime-time special.
On the West Coast, the league didn’t look any better. The San Francisco 49ers will play their next two home games at the Arizona Cardinals’ Stadium, near Phoenix. That last-minute, jury-rigged plan came about after officials in Santa Clara County, Calif., where the 49ers’ stadium is, wisely decided to ban contact sports through late December in a bid to stem the virus surge wreaking havoc in large parts of the state.
But there is a problem: State Farm Stadium is in Maricopa County, Ariz., which has had an average daily rate of 42.7 cases per 100,000 residents in the past week — well above the alarming rate of 29.5 cases per 100,000 residents in Santa Clara County.
The change of venues only makes sense for a league trying to keep a troubled season going, not from the standpoint of public health.
The league was making things up on the fly, the same as it has done all season. “It seems like they didn’t have a plan for what to do once people started testing positive,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health and Security, when we spoke this week. “They’re sort of flying by the seat of their pants, trying to figure out how to actually finish the season.”
Remaining on the current path is a fool’s errand, added Eric Topol, a coronavirus expert and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research. Trying to play without the benefit of an N.B.A.-style restricted environment, he said “is an exercise not just in futility, but in danger.”
It would be better to pause the season now, retool the health protocols and wait out the coming storm. If the virus recedes to controllable levels by the early part of 2021, resume with a shortened playoff and a Super Bowl — ditching the current plan to allow fans in the stands at that game.