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Should the NFL play games without fans?

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NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect world, the Falcons would knock the draft out of the park at the end of April. Then they’d jump headfirst into rookie mini camp, OTAs, and training camp. We’d be able to inundate you with stories about a random player’s decision to adopt a rigorous capoeira regimen during the off-season and how we promise, it will make all the difference in 2020. The team would have a magical season and follow it up with a deep playoff run. I wouldn’t dare get selfish and ask for a Lombardi, but that’d be awfully special, wouldn’t it?

Sadly we don’t live in a perfect world right now. And much of that perfect world scenario is in doubt at this point. I’m talking about the distinct possibility that the NFL season is delayed or cancelled. It’s on every football fan’s mind. Can we still move forward as planned this Spring/Summer/Fall?

It isn’t just the NFL that’s trying to navigate this situation; the same concerns are being raised with respect to MLB. Setting aside the possibility that teammates could get each other sick, how would this work? Are you really going to pack 20,000 fans into a stadium? One obvious solution is to exclude fans, which addresses many of the concerns and is in a couple of words ... an idea.

So here’s the real question: Is it better to have games played without fans in attendance or no games at all? This is all purely hypothetical inasmuch as there are still concerns about the health and safety of players and the staff, especially over the course of an 18 week regular season. But if it would work in principle, can you get on board if it means there won’t be any fans at the games?

It’s understandable if this proposition doesn’t exactly blow your socks off. I feel the same way. Even if we’re talking about those of us that watch or listen to games remotely, the absence of the crowd factor would be hard to wrap your mind around. But if the alternative is no season at all, I could probably be convinced.

Meanwhile, if we’re looking for a relevant example of how this might work, professional baseball is back underway in South Korea, a country whose COVID-19 crisis came and has subsided earlier than our own. It sounds like they intend to play with masks of some sort. Who knows how that will work, but their regular season is scheduled to begin at the end of April.

Ultimately, even if the situation in the United States improves dramatically over the next several months, baseball and football are completely different sports. Football teams are more than twice as large. Most baseball is played (and practiced) without physical contact. It’s hard to equate the two. That, of course, won’t stop the NFL from trying to learn something from how major league baseball approaches their viability in the midst of this crisis. And for what it’s worth, it’s sounding more and more like major league baseball is going to take an aggressive approach to getting players back on the field, one that doesn’t permit fans to watch in person.

At the end of the day, playing without fans is probably one of the first solutions both MLB and the NFL will contemplate to make sure their seasons eventually get underway. Can you live with that?