The National Football League’s attempt to address a virus crisis that has turned its field into a giant igloo will continue when the Arizona Cardinals play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
League officials are considering re-running the floodlights. They may have to get rid of the permanent stands, or maybe kick the game up to 4:30 p.m. to allow additional time for the game to be played and none of the field workers become ill.
“We’ll know by Tuesday what needs to be done,” said Dr. Michael Gifford, the chairman of infectious diseases at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. “They could treat the field with water and sanitize it, or switch to artificial turf. The best option, I think, is to use water.”
The NFL has held regular-season games on days when a team was scheduled to play a rival in a stadium with standing-room-only tickets — that would mean 15,000 seats available for a party that could easily surpass the attendance of a regular-season game. The league has also staged preseason games on the Saturday when the weekend’s best first-round pick would be featured.
But the epidemic of staph infections has slowed that tradition, and the league may start having games with limited luxury boxes (or never have one at all) while the infection works its way off the field.
You can’t count the season’s first bye week as a temporary test. In the 2015 season, the Seattle Seahawks played the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. instead of their usual 7:30 p.m. slot. Players and fans came down with strep throat, but the game did not need to be rescheduled because it was in the preseason.
“The League has not determined when these games will move, but the first bye week is a possibility,” a league spokesman said.
The game between the Jaguars and Broncos on Oct. 8 had to be moved to 8:20 p.m. in Denver because the culprit, strep throat, was downplayed in comparison to other illnesses. The Giants’ Week 1 game against the Cardinals was also moved to 4:30 p.m. because the coaching staff wanted to ensure that the field was in good enough shape to host the NFL Network game, which featured heavy snow.
One day after the Giants game, management at the University of Phoenix Stadium decided to switch the scores posted on the stadium’s big video board from 8:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The move was purely logistical. Fans might have told the game’s broadcasters that they wanted to see the game start when it was scheduled to start. Moving the score means the game has to be listed as the first home game of the season.
The NFL does not know which games might be affected by the latest outbreak, but it is considering scheduling the week of the bye for October, said a league spokesman.