“I think it’s honestly ridiculous that there will be … what appears to be a playing field that is like that,” McDermott said Monday during a video conference call with reporters. “Inconsistently across the league with the different away stadiums.”
Per instructions from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), Buffalo is not permitted to have fans at Bills Stadium, although the team says on its website that it “will maintain communication with the NFL and state and local government agencies to establish policies and procedures to create and maintain the safest possible environment should spectators be permitted.”
Speaking Monday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, DeSantis said: “Look, we’ve been watching sports on TV. But when you watch the NBA with an empty arena or Major League Baseball with an empty stadium, it’s just not quite the same. I know this isn’t going to be people falling from the rafters here, but I think it is something that will give people a little bit of hope.”
The Dolphins’ plan includes socially distanced seating clusters; staggered entry times; touchless bathroom fixtures; cashless transactions for food, parking and merchandise; and no tailgating.
The team will also require that everyone wear a mask when not actively eating or drinking, and Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel said Monday: “If you are someone that doesn’t want to wear a mask, this isn’t the place for you this year. Don’t buy a ticket. Don’t come.”
The University of Miami is planning a similar arrangement for its home football games at Hard Rock Stadium. However, Rep. Donna Shalala (D), whose congressional district includes much of Miami and its immediate environs, expressed concern.
“It is very difficult to open anything when you have community spread,” she said Monday. “We still have community spread in South Florida. So the kinds of precautions that need to be taken are extraordinary, and I think it’s going to be very difficult to do.
“There is no question that it’s risky,” added Shalala, who served as secretary of health and human services under President Bill Clinton.
McDermott has not been the only coach to complain about the NFL’s attendance policy. Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings said last week that it “really stinks” that his organization will not allow fans, at least in the early going.
“I think there are some unfair things going on around it as far as some teams can have fans and some teams can’t,” Zimmer said. “So I think there is a competitive disadvantage in some of those areas.”
Denver Broncos Coach Vic Fangio struck a different note Monday, even though his team is also barring fans from its Week 1 home game against the Tennessee Titans.
“If we can play in a stadium that’s full, half full, a third full, home or away, we’re happy,” Fangio said. “That shows progress with the covid. Otherwise, I personally don’t care, other than that I would like to see fans.”
The Broncos said last week they were “hopeful that we can host a limited number of fans on a gradually increasing basis beginning early this season.” While not every NFL team has declared its policy, approximately half the league intends to exclude fans, including the Bills’ neighbors to the southeast, the New York Giants and Jets.
The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs are among the franchises preparing to welcome a limited number of fans. The team’s plan for a “reduced capacity of approximately 22 percent to kick off the 2020 season” could allow around 17,000 attendees at Arrowhead Stadium, which can seat over 76,000.
The Dolphins’ Garfinkel noted that Miami’s plan only extends to the team’s first two home games, after which “we’ll take a look and see where the numbers are.”
“If they get a lot worse, it’s very conceivable we could have a situation later in the year where we don’t have fans at a game,” he said. “If they get markedly better, it’s possible we could move to half capacity.”
Even if the team keeps its crowd to just 13,000, that might not be disappointing to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who graduated from Harvard and quipped Monday that he “played a lot of games in college with less fans than that.”
“I think just from everything that I’ve seen within this organization — the day-to-day — I know that they made that decision with everybody’s health and safety as the number one priority,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s huge for us as players to have some noise, to have some crowd reaction. It’s a big thing.”
To McDermott, the differing policies on attendance were an irritant but also an opportunity to teach his team a lesson.
“We control what we can control,” the Bills coach said. “That’s got to be our mind-set, and that’s how we attack it.”