Although the event is still on schedule, the ongoing coronavirus crisis is having already having implications on preparations for next month’s NFL Draft.
Declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, coronavirus—or COVID-19—is raising alarms around the United States as more and more cases and deaths are reported. The NBA suspended its season until further notice after announcing Wednesday that a player on the Utah Jazz—identified in other press reports as Rudy Gobert—preliminarily tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets have announced plans to play upcoming home games before empty arenas, and teams in both MLB and MLS have had their schedules affected by state and local policies put into place as public health officials and elected leaders try to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Right now, we are in the typical slowdown period of the NFL offseason, with pro days and league meetings among the most notable events taking place for the leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas. For the time being, the draft remains on schedule and plans for the event in Las Vegas have not been affected by the ongoing crisis. However, preparation leading up to the draft has changed for some teams, with individual clubs addressing employee travel. Among those teams is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are working to minimize commercial flights for scouts and coaches as they travel to pro days until further notice, with other clubs enacting or seriously considering similar measures. More from NFL.com:
Burt Lauten, the Steelers’ director of communications, confirmed to NFL.com: “We have adjusted our travel plans temporarily as it pertains to pro days.”
Operating with guidance from public health officials and medical professionals, the Steelers still plan to be represented at pro days. Some commercial flights may still be used, but scouts and coaches are to drive if it’s within a reasonable distance. Private planes could be used in certain instances, too.
A second team pulled all of its coaches off the road Tuesday, citing concerns over a possible quarantine, sources told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. A third team canceled a private workout with a draft prospect, citing COVID-19, a source told NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Other teams are still evaluating potential changes, while scouts and executives for a handful of other teams told NFL.com it remains business as usual.
The Saints also have tweaked their pre-draft travel, including limiting commercial flights and pulling a few coaches off the road in case the COVID-19 issue worsens, a source said.
It might be premature at this point to implement an alternative plan for the draft, but there will likely be a number of factors to watch over the coming weeks, including how public health and elected leaders in Nevada handle the ongoing situation. As of Wednesday, there are seven confirmed cases in Nevada—including five presumptive positive tests in Clark County, with three additional COVID-19 cases reported by the Southern Nevada Health District on Wednesday—and it is impossible to predict whether that situation will worsen but, if it does, they could follow other jurisdictions in implementing a ban or advisory against large gatherings.
If anything, it seems possible that measures designed to prevent fans and draftees from traveling to Las Vegas would not have to prevent the draft itself from taking place. The draft does not have to be conducted as part of a large public event as it traditionally is, so—if it comes down to it—the NFL could in theory consider alternate measures to hold it remotely with a studio broadcast, a step that would reduce travel while allowing an important part of the offseason to unfold on schedule.
Rendering of 2020 NFL Draft courtesy NFL.
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