The NFL announced its first significant concession to the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, canceling its annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers were planning to play in the annual exhibition on Aug. 6.
Cowboys, Steelers Likely to Play in 2021 Hall of Fame Game
The NFL also postponed its Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on Aug. 8. Players and other contributors who earned positions in the 2020 Hall of Fame class will now attend an induction ceremony in 2021.
The 2020 Hall of Fame class includes Steve Atwater, Isaac Bruce, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James, and Troy Polamalu, along with coaches Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson, as well as contributors Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue, and George Young.
According to multiple media reports, the NFL will likely select the Cowboys and Steelers to play in the 2021 Hall of Fame Game instead.
The cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game proves that even the NFL isn’t immune to coronavirus concerns. According to The Athletic, the league is considering shortening its preseason from four games to two. Teams are expected to report to training camp on July 28, but NFL officials could still delay that date.
Local COVID-19 Regulations Will Determine NFL Attendance
The NFL is currently moving forward with plans to holds its regular season as scheduled. However, teams may find themselves dealing with varying local conditions that make games in different parts of the country take on very different feels.
The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan reported Tuesday that the NFL will permit each franchise to set its own capacity limits when the preseason begins. Teams will have to follow local health guidelines, but those protocols already differ between cities and states, and likely will continue to do so in the fall.
“Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing,” an anonymous NFL source told Kaplan. “It will not be a one size fits all. I wish they would push back the start of the year to October to give us more time to learn from these other leagues.”
Some leagues are learning that the situation on the ground can change rapidly. While the NBA expressed confidence in choosing Orlando as a bubble site to resume its season, the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Florida is creating a low level of concern around that plan. Major League Baseball plans to restart its season in home stadiums throughout the country, but that may prove difficult for teams in areas that see spikes in coronavirus cases.
Regardless of the Hall of Fame Game cancellation, the NFL is planning for a full season with playoffs this fall and winter. The Kansas City Chiefs will come into the year as the favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions, with FanDuel Sportsbook listing the Chiefs as a +650 pick to earn another title. The Baltimore Ravens (+700) and San Francisco 49ers (+900) round out the list of the top Super Bowl contenders for the coming season.