(When) will sports actually come back?

Each league has a plan, but will it even matter

NBA+Commissioner+and+everyone%27s+best+friend+Adam+Silver+faces+the+harsh+reality+that+the+season+may+not+resume

NBA Commissioner and everyone's best friend Adam Silver faces the harsh reality that the season may not resume

A few weeks ago I mentioned how, much like the rest of our lives, the whole sports world was put on pause in mid-March (linked here). Since then, many leagues across the world have begun the slow process of trying to figure out how to resume and re-configure their respective schedules. That said, with the disease still around or just coming down from its peak in the US, no one is ready to head back to the court/field/track this month or probably even next one. However, organizations like the MLB and NFL have announced preliminary plans or proposals to start movement in athletics.

College football hits home really hard for me. It’s been a huge part of my life since I was barely eight years old, and only beginning this fall will I actually be in college to experience it. Or so I thought. Since over 90% of students nationwide were sent home last month, talk has begun to brew that some schools/districts and even major universities will refrain from reopening at the regularly-scheduled time in the fall. Of course, with no colleges there more than likely would be no college football. First off, college football is a greatly fan-driven sport. With no students on campus or allowed in the stadium, the product would suffer. But even more important, it’s hard to justify the players as student athletes when they can’t be students, so the model would fail nevertheless. So, conferences and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have looked into shortened seasons as well as moving all or a portion of games to a spring season that may run up to May.

On the flip side, professional football is pushing forward. After moving this week’s NFL Draft from Las Vegas to an online format, the NFL has remained confident in a September start date, though it’s preseason camps and team activities may be affected. That said, the league does have contingency plans to shorten the season, limit attendance, or completely close stadiums to the public should social-distancing guidelines remain in any form in the fall. All of this comes after the start-up feeder to the NFL, the XFL, suspended operations and filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy last week.

Among the most affected sports has been baseball. Less than three weeks into Spring Training in Florida and Arizona, all major and minor league players were sent home in March. Since then, the MLB has released a few proposals to begin the regular season, even if months late. One scenario will see all 30 teams moved to Arizona temporarily with player and team personnel travel being restricted to only between the stadiums and team hotels. Of course, fans would not be allowed at these games, but it would create a heavy load of televised games with networks not having to move a ton of equipment around. To maximize games played, teams would share stadiums as well as play many doubleheaders (two games in one day), though this would be eased by larger rosters. Another similar proposal allows the more eastern teams to quarantine similarly in Florida while the other half stay in Arizona with games taking place only in those two states. The benefit here is that teams are already split between these two states for spring training in February and March, so all organizations would be in a semi-familiar environment. Nevertheless, baseball will be one of the first (and highest-volume) sports to return, and we could see games until December.

The first league to completely shut down under COVID 19 fears was the NBA, and for good reason. In all, more than ten NBA players and a variety of team personnel, including Knicks owner James Dolan, have at one point tested positive for the virus. After the very first case, the league immediately locked down with the rest of its regular season skipped in the last month. The playoffs were scheduled to begin this past weekend, but plans to resume are far from finalized with a good chance we may not see anymore basketball until the 2020-2021 season rolls around. If they are able to come back in the early summer, we could see an abbreviated playoff structure, likely in empty arenas and possibly confined to just one location or area like the MLB.

The National Hockey League, which basically runs concurrent to the NBA season, is looking at jumping into the playoffs whenever it can, with many teams willing to go into late summer. Of course, hockey has the benefit of more extreme conditions, more spacing, and significantly heavier protection than basketball, which may expedite its return. Even more extreme, NASCAR will also look to return in early summer given it’s heavy equipment and significant barriers (scalding hot cars do a great job of separating competitors while also killing any virus that could be around). A convenient time for them to resume may be the May 24th Coca-Cola 600, as it takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway which lies within an hour of most race teams’ headquarters. However, Indycar has already postponed their May 24th event, the Indianapolis 500, and moved it to August while shifting the Global Medical Response Indianapolis Grand Prix to July 4th.

Currently, the PGA Tour has plans to resume its season June 11th in Fort Worth, Texas. Already, three of golf’s four major tournaments have be rescheduled with the PGA Championship moved from mid-May to early August, the US Open pushed from June to September, and the Masters from last week to November. Already, the Open Championship (the British Open) was cancelled from its July 16-19 dates with no plans to play the tournament this year.

So, all hope is not lost. Though there may not be any live sports on TV today (or tomorrow or for the next little while), the light at the end of the tunnel is coming into sight. Everyone is just as hyped to get back to competition as you or I am, and I am confident that when the proper authorities have deemed it safe and all participants have been medically cleared, we will have sports very quickly.

Just for fun, I predict that should they resume, the Bucks will take the NBA, the Bruins will claim the Stanley Cup, and eventually the Yankees will win the World Series. In the other sports already in-season but paused, I like Kyle Busch to capture the NASCAR crown, Josef Newgarden in Indycar, Rory McIlroy as the top golfer, Dominic Thiem to break through on the men’s tennis circuit, and Naomi Osaka to return strong on the women’s side. Bonus prediction: Joe Burrow of LSU will go #1 in the NFL Draft with the first in-state prospect to be picked being Javon Kinlaw of SC.