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NFL reaffirms draft date despite Coronavirus concerns, threatens disciplinary action against public debate

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Related: Patriots players support local families and organizations during the Coronavirus outbreak

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As the National Football League is adapting to life during the Coronavirus outbreak in the United States, the league office itself has taken another look at the next big event on the calendar now that free agency has started to slow down: the 2020 draft, which is scheduled to take place between April 23 and April 25 in Las Vegas. The NFL has already announced some changes due to the health crisis, but the draft’s date will remain in place.

Commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed the draft’s schedule in late April in a memo sent to all 32 member clubs on Thursday. Goodell mentioned that he had discussed the matter with the NFL’ Management Council Executive Committee — an eight-man Committee that also has New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft as one of its members — and reached the conclusion that leaving the draft date as set would be the best course of action.

This decision was announced to the teams as follows (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter)

As you know, we have been reviewing and addressing all aspects of our off-season operations, including the Draft, in light of current public health conditions. Earlier today, the CEC discussed the issues relating to the Draft. The Committee was unanimous and unequivocal that the Draft should go forward as scheduled on April 23-25, 2020.

Apart from the CED, I have personally discussed this matter with many other owners, club executives and coaches, and there is widespread support for the CEC’s conclusion. Everyone recognizes that public health conditions are highly uncertain and there is no assurance that we can select a different date and be confident that conditions will be significantly more favorable than they are today. I also believe that the Draft can serve a very positive purpose for our clubs, our fans, and the country at large, and many of you have agreed.

Because of the unique circumstances in our country today, the 2020 Draft will obviously need to be conducted in a different way. Already, we have cancelled all public events, we will not be bringing prospects and their families to the Draft, and the Draft itself will be conducted and televised in a way that reflects current conditions.

How exactly the draft will look like under this new format remains to be seen, but Goodell also told teams that they should prepare to work from outside their facilities and with only a limited number of people present in the so-called war rooms. This last bit could help the Patriots: they already have one of the smallest decision-making bodies in the NFL in terms of draft day procedures, and would therefore not have to change the internal makeup.

Goodell’s memo did not just reaffirm the draft date and informed the league’s clubs about potential procedural changes, it also threatened discipline against those discussing the matter in a public forum:

Clubs have already reached out to us to discuss particular issues, and we encourage clubs with questions or concerns to continue to raise them with me, members of the CEC, or our staff. The CEC was also clear, and I share the Committee’s view, that the public discussion of issues relating to the Draft serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.

The announcement of potential discipline has apparently already created some backlash, though. According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, one NFL coach noted that Goodell was “trying to silence critics” and that more people in the league would be in favor of postponing the draft than those who would like to see it proceed as scheduled. For now, the issue seems set, but the situation likely remains a fluid one nevertheless.