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Report: NFL plans to shorten preseason to two games

The NFL plans to shorten its preseason from four to two games per team, according to multiple people familiar with the league's deliberations.

The reduction represents the NFL's latest scheduling adjustment based on the circumstances created by the novel-coronavirus pandemic. The issue was discussed by team owners who are on the league's labor negotiating committee during a conference call Wednesday, and the revised preseason schedule could be announced Thursday or Friday, according to those with knowledge of the NFL's planning, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the league made no official announcement Wednesday.

The change leaves each NFL team playing two dress-rehearsal games in late August in advance of a regular season scheduled to begin Sept. 10. Even with the recent rise in coronavirus infections in many states, league officials have remained committed to starting the regular season on time and have continued to express optimism that it can be played to its completion.

The shortening of the preseason enables the NFL to limit teams' travel and perhaps reduce the risk of players, coaches and other personnel being exposed to the virus. It also gives players more time at the beginning of training camp to ease into full-speed on-field activities after an offseason in which there were no on-field practices. Teams' offseason programs for players were conducted entirely remotely.

The decision was made in consultation with the league's competition committee and the NFL Players Association.

The NFL previously canceled the preseason-opening Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys that had been scheduled for Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio. It appears likely that the league will eliminate the first and last weeks of the original preseason, and tweak some of the matchups and scheduling details of what remains. That leaves each team playing one preseason game between Aug. 20-24 and another between Aug. 27-31. Each team would have one preseason game at home and one on the road.

The league and union were concerned about players, without the benefit of offseason practices, suffering injuries during training camps without a gradual ramping-up of football activities.

The NFL plans for teams to play games at their home stadiums during the preseason and the regular season. League officials have said the issue of whether fans will be in attendance during the regular season will be determined team by team and city by city, based on local health guidelines. That policy also is expected to be followed during the preseason, according to those familiar with the NFL's planning.

The league has told teams to expect to report to training camps on time; for most teams, that means camps will open July 28. Teams are to conduct their training camps at their regular season training facilities. Joint practices between teams during training camp have been prohibited. Teams have been sent protocols for the players' return to teams' facilities. But key details such as testing frequency and treatment procedures remain under discussion between the league and union.

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