Patriots

Bedard: NFL needs to resist its inherent greed and just shut up

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Jeff Pash (Getty Images)

It was doing so well, really.

The NFL, blessed with the great fortune of being the only professional sports league not to have its season or postseason interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, has largely seen its calendar go unchanged during all this.

Free agency went off on schedule and outside of physicals needing to be dealt with, everything went fine and it was a great distraction for the football-loving part of the country (in case you didn't know, 43 percent of Americans don't give a flying football about the NFL).

Some people were against it, thought it was a bad look to be giving out millions of dollars when many Americans were being laid off and didn't know where their next check was going to come from. But since everything thing could be done virtually, some of us didn't seem the harm and it was, indeed, a great distraction. Plus, delaying a week, a month or three months wasn't guaranteed to be any better. In fact, it was likely going to be a lot worse and if that happened, you'd put the ability to start the season at risk.

Most of us really don't have much of a problem with the draft as well and for many of the same reasons. It didn't involve asking anyone to get on a plane. Teams could conduct the draft with a small crew in their town. We could all sit on our couches and be entertained for hours over three days. No one was going to be hurt or infected. Good, clean entertainment, and the NFL — and quite a few other people — could make a buck at the same time. All good from this vantage point, although some important voices didn't agree.

While I don't agree with Adam Schefter, I respect his opinion immensely, especially since he lives in New York — the epicenter of the crisis in the U.S. — and has a deeply personal tie to 9/11. He's speaking from the heart during a crisis in his hometown, and I'm never going to begrudge anyone of that.

But I was fine with free agency and the draft. The NFL was proceeding with caution and, this is important, needed humility.

And then on Tuesday, the league tossed it all out the window and showed once again that it's simply a greedy monolith beholden to one thing only: the almighty dollar.

After announcing expanded playoffs — that could see a team play 20 games in 21 weeks to make the Super Bowl once the 17-game season is enacted (you know, player safety) — league executives were asked about the timetable for the offseason and the regular season.

"Our expectation is fully-directed at playing a full season starting on schedule and having a full regular season and a full set of playoffs, just as we did in 2019," said Jeff Pash, Executive Vice President of ​Labor/League Counsel. "That’s our expectation. Am I certain? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow, but I’m planning on it and same thing, we’re planning on having the full season. That’s what we talked about."

OK, I'm with him so far. Sure, we're planning on the season but we'll see what happens. No one knows what will have a month from now, let alone five when the NFL season is set to start.

And Troy Vincent, a voice of reason in the league office, continued to speak with common sense when asked about the timing of offseason programs and the season.

"Yes, obviously, at the ownership level we spoke about that, at the presidents’ level, that we’re moving forward as the season will commence," Vincent said. "At the same time, we’re being responsible just looking at all options, in particular in Football Operations, with contingency planning, but we are planning today for a full season. We are all planning today for international play unless the medical community tells us differently."

Smart and needed move with the contingency planning. The NFL is being responsible. With you so far.

And then it went off the rails, in typical NFL ivory tower/totally-disconnected-from-everyday-people fashion when Pash was asked to follow up on Vincent's answer.

"We did not discuss in either of our calls issues of shortened seasons or any change to the structure of the season," Pash said. "We are planning on going forward with a regular complete season, as I say, similar to what we play every other year.

"All of our discussions, all of our focus has been on a normal, traditional season starting on time, playing in front of fans in our regular stadiums and going through a full 16-game regular season, and a full set of playoffs. That’s our focus."

What happened to the contingencies? What happened to being responsible? What about some acknowledgment of the unprecedented crisis?

Then it got even worse when Pash — not exactly a favorite of Patriots Nation or Bill Belichick from past controversies as Roger Goodell's legal sidekick — started to explain the league's rationale for plowing full-steam ahead with the start of the NFL season with no regard for what's going on in the world-at-large.

"I think what the doctors are looking at are models that address the effectiveness of different kind of intervention on how the curve has trended down and tailed off in other countries and what they believe will be the result, based on the modeling that they have done in this country," Pash said. "And keeping in mind that we are still in March, so there are quite a few months between now and when our season would begin. The belief and the information that we have is leading us to continue to focus on having the season start on time and be played in a normal way.

"For the time being, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be able to go on schedule."

This is where they lost me.

So suddenly Pash and the league office are