INDIANAPOLIS — Pete Ward, the Indianapolis Colts' chief operating officer, today joined Colts.com's Jeffrey Gorman and Matt Taylor to discuss the possible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Colts' draft and regular season schedule, the team's new uniform and logo tweaks and much more.
You can listen to that conversation in its entirety above, but here are some highlights:
The COVID-19 pandemic has created some unprecedented scenarios across the NFL. How are the Colts handling the upcoming NFL Draft and all the temporary changes planned for this year?
Ward: "Well you're right, Jeffrey, this is an unprecedented draft. And it's probably going back, you know, to the 30s and 40s, if even then, because everyone's going to be in their own house — Chris Ballard will be alone in his house, Ed Dodds, every scout and player personnel staffer will be in their own home — and everyone's just going to be in this giant Zoom meeting…"
…Usually the draft room has 25 to 30 people in it at a time and Chris Ballard encourages open communication in that setting during the draft. So will that process be the same in a virtual setting?
Ward: "Well that's what everyone's hoping and trying to achieve. And if everything works right, then they should be able to operate efficiently like they have, as if everyone's in the war room together. So this is something that, you know, everyone's certainly anxious about — because it's never been done before — but if everything works like it should, then everything should be fine. So the world will be watching, and I think everyone in the league understands that this is unprecedented, and if something goes wrong — which it shouldn't — then we'll adjust accordingly."
What are your thoughts in general on holding a virtual draft, with social distancing being the call to action during this pandemic?
Ward: "Well, I think if it can be done safely and smartly, then business goes on. And I think that's what this country is trying to grasp, is how to ease back into daily business, but doing it safely and in an intelligent way. You know, as far as the NFL goes and the Colts, if we can distract people from the anxieties of what's going on the world and hopefully inspire and help the community, that's certainly among our goals. So we've had to adjust and make contingencies along the way, including free agency, the offseason player program — which, by the way, starts Monday — … we're at the mercy of medical and public health experts, as well as our government regulations, and so we're just gonna continue to plan for our season and be prepared to adjust as needed."
In your discussions with the league office, are there scenarios brought up in which the possibility of a potential later start of the season is an option?
Ward: "Well, like everybody else out there, we're guessing and looking at estimates and hoping beyond hope. But in the end nobody really knows what life in the world is gonna look like in six months with this virus. And like I said, Jeffrey, all we can do is just continue to plan. Certainly there are contingencies going on in our heads, but all we can really do is be guided by the advice of the experts, and plan and adjust accordingly."
What's your level of optimism that, come September, if things are done the right way, that the NFL season could get started on time?
Ward: "Well I'm always an optimist, and I am confident and hopeful — but again, I don't know. No one really knows. And so we've just gotta move forward with that in mind, and just be ready to adjust. But I'm always excited about a new season starting, and I sure hope that this can happen."
Would you be open to the idea of opening up Lucas Oil Stadium for Colts games, but without fans for a certain period of time if need be?
Ward: "You know what? I don't know if that's feasible or not. There's so many questions that have to be answered yet, like, you know, is it safe for players to be in a huddle together? And to tackle each other? And how do you accommodate that, and how do you activate the safeguards necessary for something like that to happen? I just don't know. Again, that's gonna be dictated by what the health experts are gonna tell us. But I think that if that's what it comes down to, that's something that would have to be considered. But it's not on the true map as of right now."
Jim Irsay has really led the way in terms of this COVID-19 pandemic, donating money to Gleaners Food Bank and collecting thousands of masks for medical personnel. What has he been like over the last few weeks trying to navigate these tough times?
Ward: "Yeah, he's been terrific. He's always optimistic and enthusiastic, and he's stepped up to help the community in a number of ways — some of those things that he's done he prefers to keep private, and I will honor him with that — but he's been awesome. He's communicated to the employees and the staff and always upbeat, so it's great to have a boss who's a true leader in a very challenging time for everyone. You know, everyone here is working from home except for our security people, making sure our facility is secure, and our facilities and maintenance guy, just making sure everything's working and running, but everyone's working from home, and we're in the same boat as everyone else in this crisis. You know, honestly, it's a challenge for a lot of people trying to do their work from home with families also at home, but we're in the same boat as the rest of the world, and I think we're all thankful at the Colts that we're all employed, and that's a credit to Jim Irsay. And our thoughts are with the many, many, many people who have lost their job in this thing. So we just hope we get through this pretty quickly."
What are your thoughts on the Colts' subtle uniform and logo changes, and what went into those?
Ward: "Well I think the first priority is always to maintain the integrity of our glorious history — the Colts' glorious history. You know, this is the 37th season coming up in Indianapolis. We were in Baltimore for 31 seasons, and I was there for three of those and made the move, and I've been here going on 37 (seasons) now. But that Horseshoe, and our uniform, is one of the most classic uniforms in sports, and honestly one of the most recognizable trademarks in the world. And so we certainly want to maintain the integrity, and still have room to play around a little bit with secondary logos that we can use from time to time promotionally and so forth. So we didn't do anything major, and I'm happy about that — Jim Irsay would never allow anything major to happen with the Colts trademarks and the uniform and the Horseshoe — so we're thankful about that, and the league has loosened the ropes a little bit, where we're able to do the color rush jerseys and the throwbacks and that sort of thing, so that gives each team a little room to play around a little bit with something fresh and new. But we will always remain the classic Colts."