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Opinion: The NFL Was Consistent in Rescheduling the WFT Game

It sucks, but the NFL isn’t breaking its own rules

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Hey BGN - Merry Christmas! I was originally going to wait on posting until the end of the season, but with the bombshell developments over the NFL pushing out the Eagles-WFT game until Tuesday, I decided to chime in with what will likely be an unpopular opinion around here.

The NFL’s decision to move this week’s game sucks for the Eagles, and their fans, but the NFL isn’t “backing down” on what it said over the summer. Roger Goodell is a scumbag and a tool, no doubt. And my heart breaks for fans that can no longer attend the game. But what it did is entirely within the guidelines they set forth in July. I reviewed the memo in its entirety, and here is the “Competitive Principles” section verbatim (emphasis mine):

The league will make every reasonable effort, consistent with underlying health and safety principles, to complete the full 272-game regular season within the current 18 weeks and all postseason games as scheduled, in a safe and responsible way. This is grounded in a commitment to players, coaches, fans, and business partners. We do not anticipate adding a “19th week” to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season.

Every club is obligated under the Constitution and Bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place. A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental. There is no right to postpone a game. Postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the Commissioner’s discretion.

In light of the substantial roster flexibility in place for the 2021 season, absent medical considerations or government directives, games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.

If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection. We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.

Whether to reschedule a postponed game will be dependent on health and safety reasons at the recommendation of medical experts as well as considerations of stadium availability, schedule integrity, fan convenience, and other appropriate matters.

If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for the purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.

My Take

  • The statement about teams “having no right to postpone” a game is a strong one. That said... the league did not elect to define what it meant by “postpone” vs “reschedule,” but it is clear from context here that moving the game to Tuesday does not constitute a postponement. In the fifth paragraph, the league talks about “rescheduling a postponed game,” which speaks to the concept that “postponement” means the game will not be played at the originally scheduled time and the rescheduled time has not yet been determined. That’s not the case here, so any clauses about “postponed” games don’t apply.
  • This whole memo seems to be little more than a scare tactic to push vaccination. It leaves a lot of wiggle room for rescheduling games (“within 18 weeks”) and specifically mentions an outbreak among unvaccinated players in its forfeit clause. Given that WFT was at least 85% vaccinated in early August and almost half of the roster ended up on the COVID list this week, it stands to reason that this outbreak primarily involved vaccinated players.
  • Speaking of vaccinated players, my guess is that the league considers the clause about minimizing the competitive burden on participating teams for a vaccinated outbreak to take preference here over laying the burden on “the club experiencing the Covid infection.” As much as putting the Eagles on a short week against the Giants sucks, it objectively sucks less than forcing WFT to take a big fat “L” over an outbreak in vaccinated players.
  • A lot of people will zero in on the language of an outbreak “resulting from” unvaccinated players or staff, and point to Montez Sweat, who was very vocal about not being vaccinated. While he was the first person on WFT to test positive for COVID prior to the outbreak, he was not the first person to test positive for the Omicron variant, which is likely the culprit for their outbreak, since it is much more contagious and more resistant to vaccination than previous variants. That first Omicron case was a Tier 3 staffer on the WFT, who tested positive for the variant a full 5 days after Sweat tested positive. This of course is all circumstantial evidence that doesn’t prove anything, but it does cast some doubt on the narrative that Sweat caused the outbreak. Unless the league can prove Sweat was “Patient Zero,” it isn’t fair to assume this, especially since someone else on staff was confirmed to carry a much more virulent strain right before the outbreak hit the team. If the league ultimately determines WFT lied about who had Omicron first and who started the outbreak, I would expect (and hope for) stiff penalties.
  • The one argument against rescheduling that holds serious water is the clause that games will not be rescheduled “simply to avoid...roster issues caused by...illness.” However, the qualifier “absent medical considerations” came before this, and when we take into account this was written before the extremely virulent Omicron variant began spreading rapidly, it would make sense that the league would take some extra precautions here. Even if their motivation is financial, if we genuinely care about player safety, this seems like a smart move. There have yet to be any confirmed “in-game” transmissions of COVID, but all of that was in a pre-Omicron world. This seems to be an entirely different beast altogether.

Why Am I Defending This?

Look, I’m as upset about playing 3 division games in 13 days as anyone. But this really is a situation where there were no “good” solutions. What people don’t seem to be considering is how much of a brave new world Omicron brought upon us. All it takes is one undetected infected WFT lineman to breathe too heavily on one of our guys and we can end up with an Omicron outbreak of our own. If you’re upset about the reschedule now, and in 2 or 3 weeks we are down to Greg Ward at QB and Mac McCain III at CB with the playoffs on the line, are you going to insist that we play the game as scheduled because “it’s our fault” we are dealing with an outbreak? Or are you going to want an extra day or two to get people off the COVID list?

And to add to that - the extra days gives WFT more time to assess their outbreak and take mitigating actions to prevent a COVID-positive player from taking the field at the Linc. Would you rather have the game pushed out 2 days and the Eagles stay healthy or play the game as scheduled and the Eagles deal with their own outbreak in a few weeks?

Poll

Which of these situations is less stupid?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    The Eagles play WFT on Tuesday and the Giants on a short week, but avoid their own COVID outbreak
    (331 votes)
  • 31%
    The Eagles play WFT on Sunday, get a full week for the Giants, but get hit with a COVID outbreak in 2-3 weeks
    (155 votes)
486 votes total Vote Now

Pushing the Eagles to a short week is unfair in a vacuum, but this is a tough situation. Plus, their next opponent is the Giants. I know, I KNOW, we lost to them a few weeks ago in an absolutely abysmal 4 quarters of football. But that doesn’t change the fact the Giants are bad. What other teams would you rather play on a short week other than the Giants? Maybe the Lions or Jets? Given the circumstances, this is at the very least a manageable outcome, even if it isn’t completely fair.

And after all this, we still don’t know if the game will even be played on Tuesday (although it is trending that way). If WFT can’t field a team by Tuesday, they will likely have to forfeit, and the Eagles get a free win AND a full week to prepare for the Giants. Or at the very least, the game will get rescheduled again, and the Giants game would likely get rescheduled too.

Again, this all really sucks for the Eagles. I’m not denying that. But the absolutely apoplectic response by the Eagles fanbase and the beat writers seemed curious to me. We all got on board with COVID reschedules last year, and now we have a vaccine-resistant variant (or so it seems) - does this not get the same treatment?

In any case, I’ll be rooting for the Eagles the next time they play - both to keep their playoff hopes alive with a win AND for them to remain free of a COVID outbreak. I’ll post again after the season is over, so until then, have a safe and happy holiday season, take a deep breath, and enjoy football.

As always, Go Birds.