By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
As the scope of the COVID-19 crisis becomes more well known, public events continue to get pushed further and further back. Of course, sporting events among the most talked about of those cancelations and postponements.
It’s now been 16 days since the NHL’s Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings wrapped up their March 11 game at the Staples Center, which ended up being the final professional sporting event in North America before the shutdown.
When it became apparent that the stoppage would not be a short-term issue, the creativity started to kick in. LeBron James proposed play-in games leading up to a full postseason. There was a proposed NHL playoff format that consisted of a league-wide tournament. Baseball super agent Scott Boras is reportedly pushing for an MLB season that would conclude on Christmas.
The one thing most of these ideas have in common? Seasons would conclude well past their originally scheduled endings. And while getting sports back as soon as it is safe to do so feels like the right play, there is also something to be said for getting sports back…to normal.
By pushing basketball and hockey into August, and baseball into December, leagues would not only be altering the ends of their 2020 season, but their starts in 2021 as well.
For instance, if basketball wanted to play into August, but not impact the 2020-2021 season, their entire offseason would have to be condensed to six to eight weeks. That not only include free agency, coaching changes, possibly the draft, training camp, and a preseason, but player rest and adjustments as well.
Meanwhile, under Scott Boras’ plan for baseball, teams that are in the playoffs could have just a month between the end of their 2020 season and pitchers and catchers reporting in 2021.
No matter when they’re restarted, the 2020 seasons for baseball, basketball, and hockey will be unusual and contain one-of-a-kind questions. That’s not just limited to the format either.
Say that the NBA resumes play in July, with the Brooklyn Nets as a playoff team. The Nets are under .500 this season- in big part because their key offseason signing Kevin Durant – hasn’t played due to an Achilles injury he suffered in the NBA Finals last summer. If the NBA season had gone on as planned, there is no shot Durant would have been available for the playoffs.
However, if those games that were supposed to happen in mid-April take place in the beginning of July, Durant may potentially be available. Would he be allowed to play? After all, he is healthy and under contract. The NBA could set a limit of regular season games that a player had to be active for them to be eligible for the playoffs, but the Player’s Association likely wouldn’t respond kindly to a healthy player under contract being held out by the league.
To be fair, I should include the sport of football in this line of thought, although they are a unique case in that their 2020 season doesn’t begin in earnest until Training Camp in late July. That may be four months away, but four months feels like four decades right now, so it is hard to predict what the world will look like then.
If the coronavirus threat has subsided, and some believe it could with warmer weather, they could have a shot at a normal season, minus perhaps losing OTAs and/or being forced to hold closed Training Camp practices. However, it’s just as likely that positive turn in relation to the virus isn’t the case, which would put them in the same spot baseball is in right now. A shortened season may be ok, but could you push the Super Bowl back into March or maybe even April?
Of course, a lot of this hinges on when new cases start to decrease, crowd size restrictions are eliminated, and things start getting back to normal outside of the sports world. At the time being, those projections seem grim at best.
The NHL has postponed a number of events well into June, which doesn’t bode well for games being played during that time.
The NBA continues to have players test positive for COVID-19, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters on Friday that plans for the season to be resumed are “being brainstormed and bantered about at a 10,000-foot view,” and that he expects the league to “dial into details about it when some possible scenarios become more clear.”
Major League Baseball meanwhile released a new set of qualifications Friday (via Jeff Passan) for when they will return to play. They include the ability to play in front of crowds (even if it is at neutral site stadiums), no travel restrictions, and the medical community confirming games would pose a health risk ‘to teams or fans.’ Right now, those qualifications hardly feel on the horizon, but more like things of a distant future.
Of course, money is always a factor, and owners are losing it quickly with sports and their other various business interests on pause. And it’s also not only them. Those employed by teams, stadiums, etc. want to get back to work as well. A jump-start resumption with shorted and/or delayed seasons may not take into account the impact on teams, players, and fans if it helps the bottom line. Whether is should or not is a separate but perhaps even more important question.
At this point, those in the sports world – from team executives, to players, to fans – need to ask themselves the following question; Do you want to see messy partial seasons in 2020 and 2021? Or shut things down for the time being, and pick back up like normal next year?
Yes I will admit, canceling sports for an entire year does sound scary. But if everybody does their part, things could return back to normal in time for NFL season to begin. If not, there’s a real chance the next live sporting event we could see is Opening Day…in 2021.