NEW YORK — The NFL’s latest mandate throws a new wrinkle into the league’s playoff scenarios.
The league announced Thursday that COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players could lead to forfeits for teams and the loss of paychecks for players.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a memo that if a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18-week schedule because of a COVID-19 outbreak, the team with the outbreak will be credited with a loss, ESPN reported. Because of an agreement with the NFL Players Association, the league has encouraged player vaccination but has not made it mandatory.
“We do not anticipate adding a ’19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” Goodell wrote in the memo.
Goodell’s memo also warns players that their wallets could be affected.
“If a game is canceled and cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule due to a COVID outbreak, neither team’s players will receive their weekly paragraph 5 salary,” Goodell wrote.
A club that forces a rescheduled game will be “responsible for all additional expenses incurred” and will also be required to pay “any shortfall between actual and expected payment to the VTS pool,” NBC News reported.
The implication is clear: Unvaccinated players could be costly, on and off the field.
The NFL postponed five games and moved 10 others during the 2020 season to accommodate COVID-19 outbreaks, according to ESPN. The league was able to play a complete schedule by moving some games to Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
Playoff positions could be affected by the rule. If a team battling for a playoff spot is forced to forfeit because of a COVID-19 outbreak, it could prevent that squad from reaching the postseason -- and earning playoff money.
The league will mandate a forfeit if all of the following occur, according to Goodell’s memo:
• A game is postponed by (the) requirement of government authorities or medical experts, or at the discretion of the commissioner, because of ongoing health concerns of an outbreak.
• The league can’t find a suitable date to reschedule within the 18-week framework of the regular season.
• The original postponement was caused by an outbreak among unvaccinated players of one team.
If a vaccinated person on the team’s player roster or staff tests positive and is asymptomatic, that person will be isolated and contact tracing will promptly occur, according to the memo. The positive individual will be allowed to return to duty after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart, and will thereafter be tested every two weeks or as directed by the team’s medical staffs. Those who are vaccinated will not be subject to quarantine due to close contact with an infected person.
If an unvaccinated person tests positive, protocols from 2020 will remain in effect, the NFL said. That person will be isolated for 10 days and will then be permitted to return to duty if asymptomatic. Unvaccinated persons will continue to be subject to a five-day quarantine period if they have close contact with an infected person.
Anyone who had a previous COVID-19 infection will be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after they have had at least one dose of an approved vaccine, the NFL’s memo said.
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