Here's how the NFL has handled the coronavirus pandemic

The virus has altered professional sports in unprecedented ways

The NFL season is around the corner, and coronavirus hasn’t gone away.

Since the pandemic swept across the United States, it not only has affected the NFL in a variety of ways, but it also interrupted the NBA and NHL seasons, and delayed the start of Major League Baseball until July.

College football had several conferences -- including the Big Ten -- postpone their seasons, and for the sports that have resumed play, they’ve either turned the rest of their respective seasons into a “bubble” format, like the NBA and NHL, or they’re playing with no fans in their ballparks, like the MLB.

Everything and everyone has been affected. And for the short term, at least, it seems as if coronavirus is here to stay.

On Thursday, the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will kick off the NFL season when they host the Houston Texans. The Chiefs have already announced that 22 percent of Arrowhead Stadium will be filled with fans in an effort to follow coronavirus safety guidelines.

Here’s how the pandemic has affected the NFL since it hit home in March:

NFL DRAFT GOES VIRTUAL

The NFL draft is probably the second biggest spectacle in the sport every year, only behind the Super Bowl. Originally, the draft was supposed to be held in Las Vegas for the first time, but because of the coronavirus, the league was forced to move to a virtual format.

Despite the drastic change, the draft saw over 55 million total viewers over the three-day event, which set all-time highs for media consumption, up 16 percent from 2019. There was an average audience of over 8.4 million viewers all three days across ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital channels, which easily broke the previous high of 6.2 million viewers in 2019.

The NFL also raised over $100 million in coronavirus relief to help support six national nonprofits.

ATTENDANCE IN STADIUMS

As of Sept. 3, 26 of the 32 NFL teams have announced that they will start the season without fans.

Five teams said fans will be allowed in the stadiums at reduced capacity. One team continues to work with a state task force and hopes to also have  fans. On July 22, the NFL announced that all fans attending NFL games this season will be requiried to wear masks.

SPORTS TEAMS SCRAMBLE TO CALCULATE MAGIC ATTENDANCE NUMBER

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE?

Because NFL teams will have minimal fans in attendance at games or no fans at all, teams will be allowed to pump in noise to simulate home crowds. Teams with limited fans, such as the Chiefs and Dolphins, will be allowed to use piped-in audio, according to Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations.

The NFL doesn’t think there’s a competitive advantage for teams with fans in the stands.

“We do not believe it’s a competitive advantage,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday. “We discussed it very early on with our competition committee and with our clubs. We do not see that. We obviously have varying capacities across the league, and from our standpoint, we want to invite our fans in if we can do it safely and we can do it with the full support of local officials. We think our fans want to come to the stadium.”

TEAMS TACKLE VIRUS

The Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos publicly showed how they were combating coronavirus during training camp. The Broncos installed a “misting booth,” which sprays a disinfectant on players.

“We want to go above and beyond to protect the players,” a Broncos representative told TMZ. “The misting booth is an additional safety measure that sprays a safe, medical-grade disinfectant on players and their equipment when entering and exiting the practice field.”

ROGER GOODELL: NFL WILL SUPPORT PLAYERS WHO PROTEST THIS SEASON

In  April, star defensive end Von Miller tested positive for the virus. Miller, who has asthma, recovered and immediately called on others to take the health threat seriously.

The Lions installed glass dividers between each players’ locker room station. Every locker appeared to be more spread out than normal. The Lions are among the teams who are considered to have the best infectious disease emergency response plan.

ESPN reported that the team’s plan also addresses how to handle packages delivered to the facility, changes to the building’s HVAC system and specific guidelines on preparing meals served to players.

NFL COACHES WEAR MASKS

The NFL updated its gameday protocols by requiring every coach and staff member in the bench area to wear a mask and reducing the size of each team’s travel party.

Owners also will have to follow COVID-19 testing requirements to gain access to the locker room, field or team charter.

Goodell said the league, the Players Association and medical experts have “developed a comprehensive set of protocols that put us in the best possible position to complete the season, culminating with the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.”

NFL REQUIRING COACHES, STAFF NEAR BENCH TO WEAR MASKS

There were four new confirmed positive tests among players and six new confirmed positives among other personnel from 58,621 tests administered to a total of 8,739 players and team personnel between Aug. 21-29, the league said.

“We have been really fortunate that cases of COVID-19 are very low across the league,” Goodell said Tuesday. “It is a testament to the plans, but most importantly to the diligence of the players, the teams and their staffs. I would tell you that we still have more work to do. We are not going to get comfortable. We will remain vigilant, resilient, flexible, and basically adapt to circumstances as needed with public health as our No. 1 priority as we have all this offseason.”

PLAYERS OPT-OUT

A total of 68 players opted out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic.

Twenty-two offensive linemen and 11 defensive linemen are among those sitting out. Players with a medical opt-out will receive a $350,000 stipend, whole those voluntarily opting out receive $150,000 as an advance against future salaries.

There were also 11 wide receivers; eight linebackers, six cornerbacks, four running backs, and three tight ends and safeties who chose to opt out. There were no quarterbacks, kickers or punters.

68 NFL PLAYERS OPT OUT OF PLAYING THE 2020 SEASON OVER CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS

The New England Patriots had the most players opt out. Eight decided not to play in 2020, including linebacker Dont'a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon.

Other key players who have opted out include Chiefs running back Damien Williams, Giants offensive lineman Nate Solder, and Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley.

If a player decides to walk away after the deadline because of a changed medical circumstance, he would get a stipend -- unless he already exceeded the value of the stipend in the time he was active. There will be no financial compensation for voluntary future opt-outs.

There also are salary cap relief machinations attached to opt-outs. Contract bonus payments due to be applied to the cap in 2020 will be delayed a year even though the bonus has been paid.