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NFL cancels international games for 2020 season, will release full schedule Thursday

Fans arrive at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City for a 2017 game. (Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

The NFL canceled its international games for the upcoming season, announcing Monday that it intends to play all of its games in the United States.

The league made the change as it continues to plan for the 2020 season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. It announced later Monday that it would release the full regular season schedule during an NFL Network special Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

The league said the international games won’t be held as planned “in order for the entire season to be played in NFL teams’ stadia under consistent protocols focused on the well-being of players, personnel and fans,” and added in its announcement that Commissioner Roger Goodell “made this decision after consultation with our clubs, national and local governments, the NFL Players Association, medical authorities and international stadium partners.”

NFL has discussed playing in empty or half-full stadiums, as calls grow for sports’ return

The league had been planning to play one game in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium and four games in London, two at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and two at Wembley Stadium. The Jacksonville Jaguars were to host two of the London games. The Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons also were to host international games. Instead, they will play all of their home games at their home stadiums.

“After considerable analysis, we believe the decision to play all our games domestically this season is the right one for our players, our clubs, and all our fans in the US, Mexico and UK,” Christopher Halpin, the NFL’s chief strategy and growth officer, said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate the support of our governmental and stadium partners in Mexico and the United Kingdom, who all agree with this decision, and we look forward to returning for games in both countries in the 2021 season.”

The schedule that will be released Thursday is to reflect the league’s intention to play a full 16-game regular season over 17 weeks beginning on time in September, NFL officials have said. The Super Bowl is scheduled for Feb. 7 in Tampa. The league has expressed the hope that stadiums will be packed with fans for games beginning in the fall.

But Goodell and other league officials also have acknowledged that the NFL is doing contingency planning based on coronavirus-related issues and lockdown orders. According to people familiar with the NFL’s planning, the contingencies being mulled include a delayed or shortened season, games in empty or partially filled stadiums and games being rescheduled or relocated. The schedule is being constructed with those possibilities in mind, according to those close to the process.

NFL officials also are studying the possibility of reopening teams’ facilities. Those facilities and the league’s offices in New York remain closed.