NFL 2020 Schedule Release Date: League May Not Publish List of Games on May 9

The NFL could postpone the release date of the schedule for the 2020 season as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc with the world of sports.

While the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the NFL to hold its draft remotely instead of in Las Vegas as planned, the league remains confident the season will begin on September 10, although it will in all likelihood do so behind closed doors.

The schedule is usually released before the draft, but the league opted to hold the latter first this year.

Throughout the last two months, the NFL has maintained the schedule for the 2020 season will not be released any later than May 9 and two weeks ago ESPN's NFL reporter Chris Mortensen confirmed the deadline had not changed.

However, according to Ben Fischer of Sports Business Daily, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is considering postponing the schedule release. The uncertainty around the schedule release is particularly detrimental for team travel planners and broadcasters, who expect the release to land by May 7.

The former need to finalize travel arrangements, while the latter have to split the schedule to satisfy the current broadcasting agreement under which FOX and NFL Network carry Thursday Night Football, while NBC and ESPN broadcast Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football respectively. FOX and CBS, meanwhile, share the Sunday afternoon schedule.

Local sales teams are also said to want the schedule release by May 9.

However, team executives and "ticketing industry insiders" have reportedly pressed Goodell to delay the release of the schedule, mindful that committing to games without any clarity over whether the season will begin as planned and go ahead at all is a gamble that could backfire rapidly on the league.

At the beginning of April, NFL's general counsel Jeff Pash said the "expectation" was to kick off the season as planned in September.

"We're planning on having a full season," Pash told reporters on a conference call during a media briefing.

"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."

The uncertainty generated by coronavirus, however, has made life difficult for the NFL. Like its other major counterparts, before getting the season underway the league will have to ensure the safety of players, coaches and staff.

Earlier this month, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL chief medical officer, indicated a series of key requirements had to be satisfied for the season to begin on time, including the availability of point-of-care COVID-19 tests, which can be carried off-site from hospitals and deliver quick results.

Point-of-contact tests were again highlighted as essential on Tuesday in a call between the chief medical officers from the major U.S. leagues and Seema Verma, an administrator for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services and a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

The NFL was among the leagues participating in the call, along with officials form the MLB, NBA, NCAA, WNBA and College Football Playoff (CFP). Representatives from the PGA Tour, The Masters, PGA of America, NASCAR and the U.S. Tennis Association were also involved.

NFL, Washington Redskins
A view from the sideline before the game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants at FedExField on December 22, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. Scott Taetsch/Getty

The call came on the same day as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a key member of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force, admitted it may be very difficult for some sports to return this season.

"Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything," he was quoted as saying by The New York Times. "If you can't guarantee safety, then unfortunately you're going to have to bite the bullet and say, 'We may have to go without this sport for this season.'"

Should the regular season begin in September, it seems increasingly inevitable that games will be played without spectators.

Earlier this month, Trump suggested sporting events would resume behind closed doors, with fans barred from stadiums and arenas until the country has overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Wednesday morning, over a million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., by far the highest toll in the world. Over 58,300 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. and 116,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

Over 217,200 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There have been more than 3.1 million confirmed cases globally.

Newsweek has contacted the NFL for comment.