If a National Football League game cannot be rescheduled and is canceled due to a Covid-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, that team will have to forfeit and will be credited with a loss, the NFL said in a league-wide memo obtained by CNN.
The new rule makes being unvaccinated a competitive disadvantage this year, all part of the league’s push to get players and staff inoculated ahead of the coming season. The NFL has also said that any team that vaccinates 85% of its players and staff can relax their safety protocols and has applied looser rules to vaccinated players.
“If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win,” the NFL memo sent Thursday states.
In addition, if a game is postponed and cannot be rescheduled, players from both teams will not receive their scheduled salary. The memo also states the team with the outbreak will be responsible for any additional expenses incurred by the opposing team.
Other sports leagues have taken a similar tack to encourage vaccinations. In college football, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey issued a warning on Monday that games will not be postponed due to coronavirus issues, ESPN reported.
Last season, the NFL postponed a series of games due to several Covid-19 outbreaks within teams. The NFL ultimately held every planned regular season and playoff game, but the preseason and the Pro Bowl were canceled.
The NFL’s four-page memo is broken down into sections on medical principles, competitive principles and financial principles. The competitive section says that the league does not anticipate adding an extra week to the season to accommodate games that are rescheduled.
The memo also differentiates between outbreaks among unvaccinated and vaccinated people and indicates an outbreak among unvaccinated people will be seen less favorably.
“If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection. We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.
With teams starting to report for training camp, the NFL saw an increase in Covid-19 vaccination rates around the league this week, with 14 of the of the 32 NFL teams having reached the above 85% threshold, the league told CNN.
The NFL also reported that 78% of players around the league have received at least one vaccine, an increase of over 4 percent from last week.
All teams around the league are now above the 50% vaccine threshold, the league said, after previously having two teams last week with less than 50% of their players vaccinated.
Still, there are some notable holdouts; for example, Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley said in a series of tweets in May that he’d rather retire than get vaccinated.
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