NFL players are reporting this week to team facilities that look a lot different than they remember. As teams have worked through the summer to retrofit their buildings for coronavirus safety protocols, change has touched every corner.
As the NFL monitors worrisome developments in Major League Baseball, it continues to stress to its teams and players the importance of not just limiting the spread of COVID-19 but responding to its inevitable appearance. And the more details a team can provide about the way it's preparing for that, the sooner its facility can be approved for training camp.
If you've been following coverage of the NFL's attempt at reopening, you've probably heard or read the term "IDER plan." That stands for "infectious disease emergency response," and each of the 32 teams has had to submit one for approval by the league and then the NFLPA. As of Monday night, the NFLPA had approved 25 of the 32 IDER plans and was in the process of reviewing the other seven.
The best of them, and the ones that were approved the most quickly, are the ones that are the most thorough and detailed, union sources said last week. An example of one of the first plans to be approved was that of the Detroit Lions, which was described by a source as upward of 20 pages long and extensive in its detail.
The Lions' plan touches on the basics, including how the team is complying with state and local COVID-19 guidelines, what the plan is for travel and how to keep players and team employees safe while on the road, on buses, on charter flights, in team hotels. And while there are league-wide protocols in place for how to respond if someone in the building tests positive or shows symptoms, the most thorough IDER plans offer specifics in terms of which rooms are the designated isolation areas and what exactly the plan is for treating an infected individual and transporting him from the facility to his home.
But as one source leafed through the Lions' IDER plan as an example of a thorough and complete one, there were other aspects that stood out. The plan touches on, among other things:
How they handle packages coming to and from the building. Who's authorized to receive and handle them; in which rooms they're allowed to be stored; and how, when and by whom they're delivered to the appropriate people.
What types of supplies they're using to clean and disinfect the facility. The union wants to know whether teams are using hospital-grade disinfectants and personal protective equipment.
Changes the team has made to the facilities' HVAC system to upgrade filters.
Specific ways they're following FDA recommendations for the preparation and handling of food. One colloquial way the NFLPA has been describing its mission in reviewing the IDER plans is that they have to "make sure we can get guys to lunch safely."
And while that sounds like a simple thing, in 2020 it most certainly will not be. Buffet-style cafeterias at NFL facilities are no more. Teams have made plans to have players and staff order food ahead of time via a phone app so their entire cafeteria experience this year is "grab and go."
Different teams, of course, have different facilities. Some, such as those in Dallas, Minnesota and Las Vegas, are new and offer space for everybody to spread out. Other, older ones have had to get creative. Some have adhered to the recommendations for space between lockers by converting media work rooms into auxiliary locker rooms, because even if media are allowed at the facilities this year they won't be allowed to set up and work there as they have in years past.
Locker room setups in the NFL are usually, at least loosely, based on position groups. For example, one wall will have lockers with all of the offensive linemen next to each other. This year, not only do teams have to leave space between lockers, some are purposely mixing up the position groups throughout the room, so players who are in close contact on the field won't spend as much time in close contact in the locker room as well.
So when you see or hear that a team's IDER plan has been approved, you can believe it has a level of detail that you probably hadn't even considered. The answer to the question, "What's different about your team's facility this year?" is going to be, "Just about everything."