For a fleeting moment five years ago, the prospect of the Raiders sharing a stadium with either the Chargers or Rams in Carson or Inglewood, California, was a real possibility.
Could that still be the case, at least temporarily, in Las Vegas should COVID-19 prevent NFL teams in California from hosting games?
As things ultimately turned out five years ago when the Rams, Raiders and Chargers all had intentions on relocating to Los Angeles, the Rams and Chargers ended up pairing up in Inglewood in Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke’s $5 billion SoFi Stadium, with the Rams arriving in Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016 and the Chargers joining them a year later from San Diego.
The Raiders, of course, turned their attention to Las Vegas, where they secured a partnership deal with Nevada to build the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium.
Fast forward to 2020 and both Allegiant for the Raiders and SoFi Stadium for the Rams and Chargers are on track for grand openings this fall as their new homes.
COVID-19 could alter the timeline, though, and while the NFL optimistically released its full 2020 schedule on Thursday, it did so in a way that takes into account the uncertainty created by the coronavirus.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed doubt about the ability of the three NFL teams in his state to play games in full stadiums this fall due to COVID-19. In doing so, it raises the question of when those teams will be allowed to play games in California at all in 2020 — with or without fans?
If, say, the Rams and Chargers don’t get the green light to host games until October — but the NFL remains intent on forging ahead with its season — it would mean both teams would need to find temporary nearby venues.
Which brings us back to Allegiant Stadium, which sits 285 miles away from Los Angeles and makes sense as a temporary home for the Rams and Chargers until SoFi Stadium is cleared to host games.
A Raiders official declined comment when asked about the possibility of Allegiant Stadium being a temporary home for the Rams and Chargers. Rams COO Kevin Demoff said his team’s objective is to play all its home games as scheduled.
“Our sole focus is on playing at SoFi Stadium, hopefully in front of our fans,” Demoff said.
Both Las Vegas and State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the home of the Cardinals, could serve as standby venues for the Rams and Chargers should COVID-19 interfere. And there is history for NFL teams playing at venues outside their market due to unforeseen events.
In 2010, the Minnesota Vikings home game against the New York Giants was moved to Detroit’s Ford Field when the roof collapsed at the Metrodome. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Saints moved their season-opener against the Giants to Giants Stadium, then split the rest of their home games between the Alamodome in San Antonio and Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. In 2003, wild fires in San Diego forced the Chargers to move their home game against the Miami Dolphins to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
It would not be the first time Las Vegas opened its arms to a team from Los Angeles in a time of crisis.
Back in 1992 the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trailblazers were playing in a playoff series when the Rodney King riots erupted in Los Angeles. As a result, Game 4 of that series, which was to be played at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, was moved to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
It’s not ideal, and the NFL still has four months to sort things out. But in uncertain times like these, all options are on the table.
In a written statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the league needs to be flexible when it comes to the 2020 schedule. “We will be prepared to make adjustments as necessary, as we have during this off-season in safely and efficiently conducting key activities such as free agency, the virtual off-season program and the 2020 NFL draft,” he said.
Already the NFL has done some clever scheduling to create leeway to deal with whatever affect COVID-19 might have on the early part of the schedule. In Week 2, for instance, each matchup is between teams that share the same bye week. As a result, if there are postponements that week, the affected games could easily be made up.
Also, the league made sure not to schedule division games in Weeks 3 and 4 while also giving every team a home and away game those weeks. If those two weeks of the season get canceled, division races will not be affected and everyone will be in the same boat as far as bye weeks.
The hope is that COVD-19 only minimally affects the upcoming NFL season, if at all. But that might be wishful thinking at this point, and the league is obviously trying to create flexibility just in case.