The Spring League is scheduling a six-team football tournament in Las Vegas during the month of October, utilizing a bubble concept that would be the first of its kind in the sport during the coronavirus pandemic.
The teams would be stocked mostly with players who were released by NFL teams, according to Spring League chief executive officer Brian Woods. But it would also include between 20-30 college players from FBS Power 5 schools that either opted out of playing in 2020 or whose seasons were canceled.
While some details are still being finalized, Woods said that The Spring League’s bubble would model itself after those engineered by the NBA, WNBA, NHL and professional soccer this summer. A total of 228 players — 38 per team — will be housed in the same hotel and will practice and play at the same facility. Overall, Woods estimated that at least 280 players, coaches and other staff members will be quarantined within the bubble.
To this point, anything short of a bubble has not proved effective for United States-based sports attempting to play during the pandemic.
Major League Baseball has been hit by breakouts on two teams, while hundreds of people involved in college football were infected during informal summer workouts. The NFL concluded that market-level bubbles were not practical for a six-month season. Instead, the NFL has described its approach as a “virtual football bubble” that requires all employees to follow extensive social distancing and mask-wearing protocols while at team facilities. Players can be disciplined for high-risk behavior when away from the facility.
The Spring League conducts an annual month-long series of practices and games to showcase talent to NFL and CFL scouts. It also hosts several other smaller and more frequent player showcases, most recently a four-day event in Denver last month. Woods said there were no known COVID-19 infections as a result of that event.
The Spring League’s bubble schedule this fall calls for 10 days of practice starting October 7, followed by nine games between Oct. 17 and Oct. 28. During games, the league will ban huddles and limit each team to 19 players, three coaches and three medical staffers on the field or on the sideline. The remaining 19 players, and all other staffers, will be stationed either in the end zone tunnel or off the field entirely and will be recalled when needed.
Disinfecting tents will be placed on both sidelines, Woods said, and three game officials will be assigned to clean the game ball and some player equipment after every play. The protocols will be overseen by a Dr. Paul Auerbach, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.