Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he remains “confident” that the NFL season will be played as scheduled despite a coronavirus pandemic that has upended the traditional NFL offseason and continues to vex a sporting world desperate for a return to some level of normalcy.
Harbaugh was speaking via videoconference June 22 after a spring in which 13 OTA and minicamp practices were wiped out because NFL facilities were shuttered as a safety precaution. Harbaugh has yet to see any rookies on the field, with all workouts and meetings this spring conducted via video conferencing.
The Ravens are scheduled to begin training camp in late July, with their first preseason game scheduled for Aug. 14. The regular season is scheduled to kick off on Sept. 13 against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Will any of that happen? And if so, will fans be in attendance?
“Nobody can predict the future. That’s in God’s hands,” Harbaugh said, but he added that he was “confident” that a 2020 NFL season will happen.
“I’m very hopeful,” Harbaugh added, “and I think it will happen. I think we’ll have the protocols in place.”
This comes a week after Harbaugh had told Baltimore radio station 105.7 The Fan that certain protocols spelled out in an NFL memo regarding the return of teams to their facilities were “humanly impossible” in an 11-on-11, contact sport.
“What I was saying was not controversial,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an obvious, clear thing. People are going to interact with one another. It’s the nature of sports, the nature of life. People are still interacting with one another in the world as well.
“I’m not one personally to run scared from a virus or anything else,” he added. “I’m just not going to do it. … I’ll be smart, and I’ll do what’s asked and respect the protocols. We’ll do everything we can to respect the protocols and more.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, made waves last week when he said that it would be “very hard to see how football is able to played this fall” unless the NFL adopted a “bubble format” with players and staff insulated from the community and tested nearly every day.
Harbaugh, though, said the league is working with the guidance of Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, and his medical staff to implement NFL safety protocols related to the coronavirus.
“We had a conference call last week with those guys,” Harbaugh said. “That was a great conversation back and forth, and I’m very confident that they understand the details of all that.”
“It’s a new world,” Harbaugh added. “You can look at it any way you want to look at it but I’m not going to run for cover, and I don’t think the NFL is, either. But they’re going to try to be safe and secure, and safety is going to come first.”
Still, even as NFL teams try to prepare for training camp in five weeks, the pandemic continues to rock the sports landscape.
Members of the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans have tested positive for COVID-19, and a dozen major league baseball players reportedly tested positive, leading to a shutdown of league facilities in Florida and Arizona even as the league’s players and ownership scurry to reach some agreement to begin an abbreviated 2020 season. Handfuls of college athletes at campuses across the nation have tested positive as they returned for summer workouts.
More than 2.3 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus, with more than 115,000 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Harbaugh said news of positive tests with other NFL teams has not “affected our thinking at all,” and stressed that the Ravens’ Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills is well-equipped to meet social distancing requirements and other protocols.
“We have plenty of space. We have a lot of meeting room space, a huge locker room, a huge weight room,” Harbaugh said. “… so I’m not worried about it. Beyond that, it ends up being beyond your control.”
What is in Harbaugh’s control is trying to prepare his team for a 2020 season, whatever that ultimately looks like.
“Our focus is going to have to be on getting ready to play the season,” Harbaugh said, “practice, meetings, and becoming the best football team that we can become.”
Harbaugh stressed that online meetings have gone as well as could be expected this spring, and players have excelled in workouts conducted via Zoom meetings with strength and conditioning staff.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen over the next six months,” Harbaugh acknowledged. “No human being knows that, so we’ll just have to be very adaptable and flexible and smart about what we do.”
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