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How the N.F.L. Started Football Season on Time in the Pandemic

Final testing will occur the day before the game, and if the results from that test are inconclusive the player will undergo further testing. They will be permitted to play as long as those results come back as negative two hours before kickoff.

In the league’s latest round of testing, which ran from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, over 44,000 tests were given to 8,349 players and team personnel. Only eight new positive cases — one among players — were confirmed.

The challenge, now, though, will be maintaining a safe environment and the same vigilance over reducing exposure risk once games begin, as teams travel and increase potential for contact. Anyone who tests positive will be isolated and barred from visiting team facilities or having direct contact with players or personnel.

“The big thing for us is to not get comfortable,” N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on a conference call last week. “We’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty. We really have to adapt to the medical community. We will look at further changes to testing as we get into the season. We’re continuing to be vigilant, flexible and adaptable.”

Accounting for the likelihood that players will contract the virus, the N.F.L. offered several roster concessions. It expanded game-day rosters to 55, from 53, with the extra two spots taken from the practice squad — a rule bound to be exploited, as it has been by New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, master of the loophole, who opted not to keep a kicker on his active roster ostensibly because he can merely sign one to the practice squad and promote him before Sunday’s game.

The league created a distinct reserve list for players who either test positive or who come into contact with someone who has. It also increased rosters on practice squads — the auxiliary unit generally filled with younger players — to 16 from 12, with six slots allocated for veterans.

And in a move that should delight coaches and executives who love churning the bottom of their rosters, teams are now permitted to protect four practice squad players every week who can’t be signed to another team’s active roster. These changes will, in all likelihood, inhibit teams from looking beyond players already cleared to be in their buildings, considering the testing protocols new players will have to undergo.

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