There’s a real chance that an NFL team or two won’t play its full 16-game schedule. Or that we’ll be having games on every day of the week as teams try to play three games in the final two weeks of the season to make up games lost to positive tests. AP Photo/Michael Wyke

The NFL schedule is in flux. It’s like nothing we’ve seen in the history of professional football. Yet it’s exactly like what we’ve seen in other sports.

The New England Patriots had their game against Denver rescheduled for Monday before it was completely pushed off until next Sunday. The Tennessee Titans, who have had some two dozen positive test results, are scheduled to play Buffalo on Tuesday night.

“That’s not fair,” former NFL quarterback Chris Simms repeated over and over again on NBC Sports Network’s ProFootballTalk show Monday morning.

He’s right. And the NFL doesn’t care.

Competitive integrity is so 2019. The Pro Sports Industrial Complex has learned it’s one of the many victims of the pandemic. Getting games played and filling television schedules is what this is all about. Not about crowning a champion through the usual norms of fair play.

Sports are being played for two reasons. One is for the fans, and one is for the industry.

For fans, these games are an escape. For a few hours on Sunday you can watch your football team and cheer and groan together as a community … even if you are communicating with friends and family via text or FaceTime.

For the industry, it’s about limiting the amount of money lost in the pandemic. The games are being played for television and the money that broadcast contracts bring in. To do that, two teams must take the field and compete.

Baseball showed us that this summer. Games were postponed by the dozens. Seven-inning doubleheaders were introduced so that teams could get as close to 60 games played as possible. You want to talk fair? The Marlins had to replace more than half their team to get back on the field. Some teams played seven games in five days. None of this would’ve been allowed in normal times.

It’s also why baseball has progressed to the playoffs without any major setbacks. On Friday the Rays eliminated the Yankees in a winner-take-all Game 5 when Mike Brosseau hit an eighth-inning home run off Aroldis Chapman, avenging a 100 mph pitch Chapman threw at Brosseau’s head back on Sept. 1.

That was in the midst of an eight-day stretch where the Yankees played 11 games. That hardly seems fair. But fairness didn’t come into the process as MLB was rescheduling games postponed because of COVID-19. It was about fulfilling a schedule against all odds and reaching the playoffs.

Once in the postseason, teams moved into a bubble where neutral-site games are being played. The bubble has served leagues well. Basketball and hockey completed their playoffs in COVID-free bubbles.

You can’t put dozens of teams in a bubble for an entire season. Football, like baseball, has to get through their regular seasons before considering games played in isolation.

That’s why the NFL is doing what it needs to do to patch this season together. And we’ve only just begun. There’s a real chance that a team or two won’t play its full 16-game schedule. Or that we’ll be having games on every day of the week as teams try to play three games in the final two weeks of the season to make up games lost to positive tests.

That won’t be fair, but it won’t matter. If it gets us to the NFL playoffs, and eventually a Super Bowl, few will complain about how we got there. They’ll just sit back and enjoy their football Sundays. And hope that we never have a season like this again.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.