Will we ever see sports return to the year 2020? Will Lebron silence critics and return a championship back to LA? Do you believe Sydney Crosby will be able to cement his legacy as the greatest player of his era with a 4th Stanley Cup? What about the Dodgers relieving some demons and taking the MLB by storm to win the pennant? Will we even be able to see these newly drafted NFL players suit up for their respective teams? Now that Covid-19 has shown us how vulnerable we are as a society, what will happen in future years if fear of a virus remains constant?
There are a lot of factors that go into opening up sports. First of all, you have to consider safety. What are certain leagues doing, or what systems do they have in place that can combat the spread of the virus? Do we believe that certain leagues can exist with fans, or is it going to be empty stadiums and arenas all year? We also have to take fairness into consideration. Teams must consider every option that stretches from players, coaches, and all the way down to their families and who can even visit these players. Competition has to be even across the board that way you are able to have the best product out there. There are a lot of cities whose numbers aren’t increasing drastically and some who are still on lockdown for the foreseeable future. So do teams who play in New York have to suffer and wait for this to be over in order to go back to their respective facilities? It wouldn’t be fair to have some teams have access to training, while others are shit out of luck. I personally believe this isn’t right and any leagues that resume under those standards, will have championships that come with a huge asterisk next to them.
Let’s start with the bad news first. I truly believe that the NBA 2019-2020 season will ultimately be cancelled. There are a lot of factors that go into an operation, and a reboot of this size, and many variables that even the public doesn’t know and they need to be accounted for. Adam Silver is also showing why he is the best commissioner in all of sports with the way he is handling it.
We have seen COVID-19 hit the NBA hard. While they were in the middle of the final push for the playoffs, it had to come to a screaming halt. Starting with a recognizable player in Rudy Gobert testing positive first and in turn infecting fellow teammate Donovan Mitchell. Thus showing us how easily transmittable the virus is. So if the league restarts, what can it do to slow the spread of this virus while also showcasing quality product on the floor?
For starters, they want what some others leagues want – Controlled Environments. Mark Cuban in an interview with CNN said, “If we can play with no fans, I’m certainly going to push for it. I think we have a moral obligation to do it. We’re dying for content, we’re dying for teams to root for, we’re dying to get excited about games.” On the contrary, you have the face of the league, Lebron James, saying he plays the game for the fans and wouldn’t want to play unless fans would be there. Players and coaches admit that they feed off the energy of the fans, but it’s also looking like this is the only way for the season to happen. The NBA also would have certain cities host these games. All teams would be subject to strict guidelines on where they stay, who would be able to play, and what members of the team are important enough to be present for each game. By doing this you’ll be limiting a lot of freedoms NBA players are accustomed, too. There also has to be a ramp up of training done before you jump into a season. So you have to give players a couple weeks to get shots up, run and lift weights, and get their bodies back in shape for a playoff push. Not all players are Lebron James and have access to basketball courts in their backyard, so most players haven’t put shots up in a month. Then you want them to compete at the highest level? It seems like a stretch.
You also have to take into consideration motivation, as in, if I’m the Golden State Warriors owner, would you risk putting your players in danger, their families at risk… and for money? Yes, there is a moral obligation for them to play. They are also getting paid to play but that’s really it. So if a team like the Pelicans gets to play a bunch of teams who have no way of making the playoffs, but yet the Spurs play the Lakers while the Rockets, who are fighting for seeding in the west, will be extremely hurt by something as simple as scheduling. Some players’ only motivation is money, and then again they aren’t all getting paid the same. So you want a bench guy to go out and give it his all and risk his health even though he is getting grossly underpaid compared to his teammates? The NBA has even said recently that they wouldn’t want anyone over the age of 60 in the building when they play games. That ranges from a player’s parents, to the head coach, or even an executive. It would be a PR nightmare and ultimately if someone lost their life to start the NBA season back up, that life goes on Adam Silver for pushing the start of the season too soon.
It is extremely unfortunate, but the best thing for the league would be to cancel. Take the financial loss, which would result in billions lost, and aim towards making future seasons safer for the players, coaches and fans. Who knows, maybe with a whole year off people will be clamoring for basketball more than ever. Maybe they will record the highest revenue earnings to date and be able to recoup these losses in a couple years. Nothing is for certain, but the league has to do what’s best for everyone.
The NHL is in the same boat as the NBA. The two leagues boht will have to take a lot of factors into account before they even think about restarting the league. Player’s lives are at risk and if anything were to happen while forcing an early restart, it could be catastrophic and ruin the sport forever. It’s already been stated that if the playoffs don’t happen, it’s a billion (there is that word again) dollar loss in revenue. Another thing that is unfortunate for the NHL is that most of its profits come from playoff hockey. Playoff hockey makes up a huge portion of their profits especially when it comes to broadcasting those playoff games.
Another thing that sucks for the NHL is they were paid already by the broadcasting stations for airing the playoffs. So if the playoffs don’t start, the NHL would technically have credits due to those broadcasting stations. So that means they won’t receive the revenue for the 2021 playoffs since past product and games are owed to those parties. This is a total lose, lose for the NHL, but they aren’t going down without a fight.
Gary Bettman has stated that it would like for there to be 4 cities who would host the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. Just like the NBA, players and coaches would be under strict guidelines of staying safe and they’d be limited to who they can come in contact with. Even saying that the person driving the bus from the hotel to the arena would never change, and they, in turn, would also be locked up with players and personnel to make sure that no one is coming in contact with the “outside world” and potentially bringing Covid19 to the NHL. One of the big things for hosting cities is the arena and whether said arena has the ability to house multiple teams in the same day, meaning facilities and dressing rooms for 6-8 teams each day since there would have to be hockey from noon to midnight to fit as many games in as possible.
One thing that intrigued me is that it was stated that if there is a COVID-19 case, it wouldn’t shut down the league, not even if there are multiple positive cases throughout the league. That’s a huge thing to hear because the constant worry would be that if a big name player would get infected then he would be quarantined and thus be unable to play and then the team wouldn’t be able to play, or would they? I ask the question, if a player or two is out from one team and the other team is fully healthy, is that fair for the team who has unhealthy players? Would they be able to continue without their star player and still make a run for ole Lord Stanley?
The league that I feel is the most affected is the MLB. Baseball has been slowly dying for the past couple years and this is only harming the revenue for the league. Baseball normally starts late March, early April, and runs until October. This is because the game has to be played outdoors and you would want fair weather during most of the season to keep the competition level. MLB does have some things at their disposal that can help them have somewhat of a season.
The MLB is lucky to have cities and stadiums that are under their minor league program that could help them keep competition even. The best option right now is looking like playing all games in Arizona. They have multiple stadiums where teams could play. They have access to a lot of facilities and resources so teams can have a somewhat normal schedule. There are a couple different switch-ups that come with this that I feel are actually going to be fun to watch, starting with the divisions.
The MLB would throw out the NL and the AL and go with a 3 division, 10 teams a piece format. It would be the West, Easy and Central Divisions and it would be based on the geography of the teams. So we would be getting some Washington Nationals vs New York Yankees, or LA Dodgers against the hated Houston Astros as standard games all season. I believe the story lines could be great with this. The season would also be condensed. So they are looking at keeping it at 100 games, but having players playing 5 days a week, even so much as having double headers every weekend. So just like the NHL, we are talking baseball from when you wake up to when you fall asleep. To me that doesn’t sound glorious! Now teams would have to expand rosters to fit these demands. So we are talking 6-7 man rotations and maybe, larger bullpens. You would also have the opportunity to see prospects earlier than expected to fit these demands. Another thing to consider is the atmosphere in Arizona is hot and the air is dry as hell, so the ball will travel and travel fast. The parks in Arizona are also very bitter friendly. So a guy like Matt Chapman will see a huge bump in production going from Oakland to Arizona. On the flip side, pitching is going to take a nosedive. So a guy like John Gray, who isn’t the most elite talent, but shows some potential, could see an even bigger downturn in his stats. I think we are looking at probably the highest scoring year, even in a shortened season.
I do believe that we will see baseball this year. They are taking the appropriate steps to make sure that players are safe. They also have the means to put the product out there later in the year with Arizona being perfect weather year round. This might be what baseball needed in a weird way to get people back into watching and caring about baseball. The lay-off and hunger for sports has fans wanting something, and if it’s going to be high scoring, which is what the fans want, look out!
The luckiest league in all of this is the NFL. The season itself doesn’t normally start till August. So Roger Goodell has time to put in a proper plan so that teams can act and have a safe environment for not only the players, but the fans. Now there will be some things that the NFL will miss. You can probably kiss OTAs and training camp goodbye. I don’t believe training will be done with completely, but teams probably won’t take many unnecessary risks if it means that they start on time. That will come with some challenges though. Rookies and 2nd year players who benefit the most from these things will have a much harder time getting into the speed of the NFL. Learning the playbooks, where guys like to be on the field, quarterbacks knowing how certain receivers break on their routes, or lineman knowing where their teammates will be on certain assignments are all done during those times. That means that the product might look rusty. This could, in turn, cause more injuries. It’s possible that certain guys will take hits to their stats or even hall of fame resumes for something that was out of their control. You do have to keep in mind that we are talking about professionals, and they will carry themselves like such. Just like us fans, players want to get out there with their brothers. They want to compete at the highest level and earn their salary. Let’s face it, if there is no season there is no money, so I see players doing what they can to make this work.
So ultimately, I believe we will have sports in 2020. Now granted most of these sports probably won’t even start till late June, or early July. Will the product be the same? More than likely, but will fans be ok with that? Teams who come from cities who are heavily affected could offer some light during dark times. Even the most casual fans could watch with intent because it shows the world is getting back to normal. There will be people who throw their hands up and say it’s too soon, and that we will be risking lives just for entertainment. These are all calculated risks each commissioner has to take. For my sake, I pray that we’re able to return to watching sports this year, even if it doesn’t start till the Fall. Sports are an escape from harsh realities. Sports are a way for total strangers to connect over one common thing – the love for their city and love for their teams. People will benefit from having the chance to feel normal. They want to believe that the world is healing and that this virus won’t break us. We the people are bigger than this virus and can overcome anything thrown at us.