That photo and news of the Tennessee Titans holding a rules-violating practice came out yesterday. This is this morning:
Whatever you think about the relative dangers of the 'Vid among uber-healthy males in their 20s and 30s, 23 positive tests (and possibly more) in a world where they most commonly used words on every newscast are "grim" and "milestone," is a terrible look. Made worse by the fact that other teams with positive tests have been shutting down their facilities, staying home, holding virtual meetings and trying not to make things worse. This practice is the football equivalent of a politician having a closed hair salon in their city open up just for them. OK, maybe that's not the perfect analogy because the Titans aren't the ones ordering the shutdown and breaking the rules when they threaten anyone else who does it. But still. The owners and players agreed teams would close up shop temporarily if there were any concerns. And in Tennessee they're having what would meet anyone's definition of an "outbreak."
Now with last Sunday's game against Pittsburgh already postponed and this Sunday's home game against Buffalo currently in doubt (it can't be pushed back to Monday night the way New England at Kansas City was because Buffalo plays next Thursday), it's worth nothing that there's something else the league and NFLPA agreed to. Which is to allow the commissioner some broad powers. From NFL.com:
"Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game."
That would be a bold move, to say the very least. The last time I can remember a forfeit of any team sportsball game was when I was a kid and Earl Weaver forfeited an Orioles game because he was pissed off about some damned thing. And the last time it was done because of illness was when the Panthers had to forfeit their whole season because they had the measles:
Though while it would be a bold move, there's a growing sentiment around the league that it would serve them right for holding an illegal workout while Mike Vrabel lied about it.
To be fair, there are several major, Trent Brown-sized obstacles in the way of actually enforcing a forfeit. The least of which is how unfair it would be to the teams in the AFC who aren't guilty of being casual with a viral infection to hand a free W to a Bills team that is already 4-0 like it's a donut with the purchase of any large coffee.
The next least important issue is that the word "forfeit" wasn't used until after the news of the workout broke. You'd be punishing a team in a way that wasn't allowed at the time they broke the rule. So it would be a sort of Ex Post Facto law. On the other hand, while those are specifically banned by the U.S. Constitution, there is nothing constitutional about the powers of Kommissar Goodell. He's got the absolute power to do whatever the hell pleases him and puts a smile on his weirdly thin lips. That power has been validated by federal courts.
But the reason I think a forfeit won't happen - and you might want to sit down and prepare yourself because this might shock you - is … ready for this? Money. From Pro Football Talk:
A forfeit would raise plenty of questions. Would CBS be entitled to a partial refund, since it didn’t get to televise one of the games that it has paid to broadcast? More importantly, would the Bills and/or the Titans players be paid? …
The possibility that the Bills and Titans will owe game checks to players becomes a very good a reason to not declare a forfeit. And if it comes to that, the financial punishment imposed on the Titans should include making their own payroll for the week, along with Buffalo’s.
There's your answer. Fat chance the NFL would lose the revenue from a game, have to reimburse their broadcast partner, and probably still have to pay players on both teams. Or at the very least, pay Buffalo players who did nothing wrong to sit home with their feet up eating wings. Threatening forfeits is the perfect, no-cost way to sound like they're taking this situation and the Titans' own grim milestone of 23 cases seriously, while still keeping the money coming in. If they do actually call it a win for the Bills, it would be one of the most fateful decisions any league has ever made. And I don't think Ginger Satan has it in him. Stay tuned.