Swept by swine flu? NFL policy gives teams relief if illness hits; other leagues yet to follow

By Rachel Cohen, AP
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swept by swine flu? NFL policy gives teams relief

NEW YORK — Some swine flu math: A dozen Cleveland Browns missed practice Wednesday with flulike symptoms, which is more than a quarter of the 45-player roster each team is allowed to use for games.

It’s not yet known whether these players have the H1N1 virus, but the NFL is already prepared for how quickly that illness can spread. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said teams received a memo from commissioner Roger Goodell on Oct. 2 about the new policy, under which they can receive roster exemptions if enough players contract swine flu.

Other leagues, though, have not instituted similar provisions. The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball said Wednesday they do not currently have policies to address the possibility of a team being hit hard by swine flu.

If an NFL team has at least six players unable to play because of the illness, it can promote players from the practice squad to replace them. A club can receive a maximum of eight of these roster exemptions.

The Cleveland Cavaliers proved last week just how easily a club’s roster can be decimated. Six of the 20 players in training camp missed practices or exhibition games at various times because of flulike symptoms. The Cavs have yet to determine whether the cases were swine flu.

During the regular season, each NBA team is limited to a 15-man roster, which includes injured players. A club must have a minimum of eight active players for a game or forfeit. So it’s not unthinkable that a team could fall below eight healthy players if swine flu sweeps through the roster.

NFL spokesman Randall Liu said the league tries to anticipate potential problems.

“This policy, which was discussed with the competition committee, was implemented in the event an outbreak of H1N1 materially affected a club’s roster,” he said. “As with all issues of player health and safety, medical considerations must and will have priority over competitive concerns.”

Major League Soccer already had a policy in place that allowed for roster moves in the case of extreme hardships.

MLB clubs carry 40-man rosters, which includes players on the 15-day disabled list, with only 25 at a time allowed to be active before Sept. 1. So teams could potentially put sick players on the DL and call up replacements.

NHL teams operate with a 23-man roster, but only 20 players dress for games — 18 skaters and two goalies. Clubs are expected to leave some wiggle room under the salary cap should they need to add players throughout the season for whatever reason.

Players on long-term injury lists don’t count against the cap, and as of now there are no exemptions in place that would allow teams to put swine-flu sufferers in that category to free up cap space.

AP Sports Writers Brian Mahoney, Ira Podell and Barry Wilner in New York, John Marshall in Kansas City, Mo., and Tom Withers in Berea, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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