As Coronavirus Shuts Down the Sporting World, The Only Winner Is the NFL

By next week, the National Football League will be the only game in town

Death, taxes and Roger Goodell getting the last laugh
Death, taxes and Roger Goodell getting the last laugh
Just K. Aller/Getty

As a flood of concern about coronavirus swept across the United States this week, nearly every professional sports league and association was forced to suspend or drastically alter play. Except one (at least so far).

Currently enjoying its offseason, the National Football League has not had to suspend any of its games or push back the start of its season, and at present does not plan to move the start of the league year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The beginning of the “league year,” which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 18, refers to the period when free agents are allowed to sign with the team of their choice, and with no other sports around to keep the slavering masses sated, it’s going to be must-see TV.

Next week, while players from the NBA, NHL, MLS and Major League Baseball are sitting at home out of the spotlight, the NFL will be the only game in town in terms of sports coverage. Though there’s certainly no way the NFL could have expected or caused this situation, it’s a big win for a league that is already the most popular one in the country by yards, not inches.

If you thought the around-the-clock coverage of Tom Brady’s decision over whether to stay in New England or leave for Belichick-free pastures was already going to be excessive, it’s now going to be covered like O.J. Simpson having a wardrobe malfunction while using a Ford Bronco to complete a moon landing.

Prep yourself for headlines about whether or not Brady is shaking hands during free-agent visits, blurbs about the gluten-free spreads he was offered by prospective suitors, and updates on whether Gisele likes the private schools in a particular NFL city or not.

Lesser NFL stories — such as where quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater, Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill and Jameis Winston, running backs Derrick Henry and Melvin Gordon, wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end Austin Hooper end up — will now get covered and scrutinized like Zapruder films.

It’s going to be all NFL, all the time, with periodic updates about the statuses of the rest of the canceled or suspended sports leagues. And since most of the NFL’s free-agency business can be conducted via phone or video chat if need be, there’s not really too much of a chance it will be disrupted in a major way.

Looking ahead, even if the physical NFL draft — scheduled to take place from April 23 to April 25 in Las Vegas — gets canceled, the league will still be able to conduct it virtually or as a smaller event. In either circumstance, broadcast teams will be able to cover it remotely as the picks roll in.

For the foreseeable future, by virtue of not having to compete with the other pro sports and the NCAA basketball tournament for coverage, the NFL will be dominating internet headlines and the fronts of sports pages like it’s the first week of February and the Super Bowl is set to kick off.

That, truly, will be March madness. Wash your hands and get your popcorn ready.

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