The concept of “the bubble” for teams as means to restart professional sports leagues around the country has proved logistically challenging.
But it has also proved successful and is therefore a format that the NFL needs to consider as it prepares to have a season in the fall.
Let’s consider the restart strategies of other professional leagues.
The NBA season is not scheduled to restart until July 30, but players, coaches, team personnel and limited media members from the 22 teams are already in the bubble at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports at Disney World in Orlando. As of Monday, July 20, 346 players tested for COVID-19 and zero tests came back positive.
The MLS is Back Tournament is also happening inside Disney and that is already underway. The league got off to a rocky start as FC Dallas and Nashville SC were withdrawn by the league due to too many positive tests in the beginning. But the remaining 24 teams are still competing in Orlando. MLS also announced on July 20 that there were no positive results among the 1,106 individuals tested over the previous two-day period.
Neither the NBA or MLS have had a positive test in over a week and MLS has not had a positive player or staff member since a Sporting Kansas City player tested positive on July 10.
The WNBA kicked off its season this past weekend in what players affectionately refer to as the “wubble” at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. During the initial round of testing from June 25 to July 5, seven players tested positive. After teams arrived to the wubble, everyone was required to quarantine and undergo another round of testing - a process that yielded two more positive tests.
But since players have entered out of the first quarantine period, no one has tested positive for the coronavirus. Individuals within the wubble continue to undergo daily testing and temperature checks.
The NHL, meanwhile, has not only created a bubble format of its own but has arranged for a bubble outside of the U.S. in Toronto for the Eastern Conference and in Edmonton for the Western Conference. With the season scheduled to resume at the beginning of August, the NHL has an added advantage over other professional sports leagues simply because it will not be playing, much less traveling, around the U.S.
The only league not using a bubble format, Major League Baseball, has seen 17 players on the Miami Marlins test positive in the last five days.
In the middle of June, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said the following: “We do not feel it’s practical or appropriate to construct a bubble...Anyone who tests positive will be isolated until medically appropriate to return.”
On call today, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said: “We do not feel it’s practical or appropriate to construct a bubble.” League will rely on robust contact tracing, education, testing. “Anyone who tests positive will be isolated until medically appropriate to return.”— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 17, 2020
Also back in June, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ director of he National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommended the bubble format for the NFL.
“Unless players are essentially in a bubble, insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day, it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci told CNN. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
Epidemiologist Zachary Binney commented on the NFL’s need to reexamine a bubble format.
The logistics are certainly challenging as confining 32 NFL teams with larger rosters than all of the aforementioned teams in other professional leagues to one certain location or selected locations, seems uniquely difficult to execute.
But it’s something the NFL now needs to consider if it wants to improve its chances for a 2020 season.