ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Las Vegas Raiders are in the ultimate hurry-up-and-wait mode. Sure, they officially rebranded themselves with a renaming ceremony in the shadow of Allegiant Stadium on Jan. 22. And plans were for the team to hold its draft, rookie minicamp and OTAs at its Alameda facility before holding mandatory minicamp June 16-18 at the team's new facility in Henderson, Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas.
Training camp would have been in Napa, California, with the Raiders making the final move to southern Nevada upon the breaking of camp. But now, with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the nation for the past two-plus months, and with the Raiders still straddling two different states and, thus, two sets of health regulations to follow, more questions than answers have flowed regarding the team's plans. We attempt to answer some here ...
What's the latest on the team's move?
It's still full steam ahead, or have you not noticed the NFL carrying on with its virtual draft and the schedule release? Whether it's whistling by the graveyard or giving fans a sense of normalcy and routine in uncertain times, the league and the team plan on playing in $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium, which will also serve as the home of UNLV football (the Raiders will play on a grass field that will slide in and out of the dome on a tray while the Rebels will play on artificial turf).
Now, whether the Raiders play in front of a full house of 65,000 fans in brand-new seats or social distancing guidelines mean there are far fewer or even no fans at all, will be decided as we get closer to the season. Besides, the Raiders already turned down their $10 million option to return to the Oakland Coliseum for one final (we really mean it this time) season, so it's Las Vegas or bust, right? The team has already started to slowly pack up its Alameda facility and moving trucks have begun making the drive to the desert.
What if Allegiant Stadium is not ready?
Glad you asked. Surely, there are contingency plans in place should the team's version of the unthinkable happen. But no one is talking about that, at least, not on the record. And you just know that Raiders owner Mark Davis, given the opportunity and need, would love the opportunity to play in San Diego, abandoned by the Chargers in their quest for the Los Angeles market. The Raiders are unbelievably popular in San Diego, but it is hard to see the Chargers and Rams allowing a Raiders residency in Southern California, no matter how short it might be.
The irony is in the reports stating that if SoFi Stadium in Inglewood is not ready, or if the state of California is still shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rams and Chargers might need to play in Las Vegas. And the site where SoFi is going up is exactly where the late Al Davis planned on building his own stadium for the then-Los Angeles Raiders back in 1994.
Alas ... Arizona? That might make geographical sense and there are no schedule conflicts with the Cardinals over the first four regular-season games (again, if the pandemic fades and games are indeed played).
Really, the most sensible option would be UNLV's Sam Boyd Stadium, in a pinch. Especially if no fans are allowed, because the main issue with the erstwhile Silver Bowl in this scenario, besides antiquated locker rooms, is the lack of a true security perimeter around the grounds of the near 49-year-old facility. No fans, no need for extra security, right?
How's the stadium coming along?
Construction was deemed essential at the onset of the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders. Despite cases of coronavirus hitting workers, building continued. The translucent roof is on. The lanai doors that open to the north and the Las Vegas Strip are up. Grass and artificial turf are being laid. Seats are being installed. The grounds are being prepped with trees. Signage has been hung. And the Al Davis memorial torch, on the concourse by the lanai doors, is being prepared. Indeed, barring an unforeseen delay, the Raiders fully expect the stadium to open on time (their preseason home opener is scheduled for Aug. 27, with their regular-season home opener on ESPN's Monday Night Football on Sept. 21 against the Saints).
What about training camp?
Honestly, not even the Raiders know where it will be ... yet. Yes, they still have their "reservation" at the Napa Valley Marriott in wine country, which is one of the best training camp setups in the NFL. But if the pandemic renders practicing in this part of California untenable, they will hold camp at their new Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center in Henderson. It is still technically under construction, but the Raiders do have their "certificate of occupancy" for the building, so they can begin moving in.
Given that the team was unable to hold any live events in Alameda and is already moving equipment to southern Nevada, it seems as though the Raiders are leaning toward holding camp in Henderson. While that might take away that certain "camp" feeling, it would enable the Raiders to get used to their new digs that much quicker. A decision could come as soon as this week. Stay tuned.