As we turn our eyes and calendars towards late spring, it seems as if there is some thawing in the ice block that is the Coronavirus in Pennsylvania. There have been discussions among each of the four major sports leagues about returning to play sometime in the 2020 calendar year.
While optimism is growing with each passing day, not every league is on the same page, and if sports do return, it could be entirely without fans. Here are the latest updates from all the major sports.
Compared to the other leagues, the NFL’s offseason has mostly gone on as planned despite the Coronavirus.
Free agency got underway in early March, and teams were preparing for the NFL Draft in April. Teams couldn’t work out players in person, and there was no combine, but the draft went off without a hitch – well, a virtual draft at least.
Optimism is high for the NFL to return as planned for the 2020-2021 season as well. While there may not be any fans in the stands, the schedule was released last week and teams are preparing for a full 16-game schedule.
Like the NFL, there is optimism for an MLB season. While many are trying to get their baseball fix by turning to both China (CPBL) and South Korea (KBO), MLB owners have revealed their plans for baseball to start in 2020.
The owners unveiled their plans on May 11th to commissioner Rob Manfred, and then to the Players Union on Tuesday, May 12th. It is now on the players and the MLB Player’s Union to decide if they want to approve the plan. If the plan were to go as scheduled, then baseball as we know it would return for July 4th in an abridged manner. However, for those that are thinking baseball by then is a sure thing, many expect the Players Union to reject the plan because it calls for a 50/50 revenue sharing split.
While other sports operate on a similar system, baseball is the only uncapped sport and players salaries are not tied to the revenues for teams. Making matters worse, the Players Union and MLB had already in March to a plan that would give the players a prorated version of their salaries if games were to come back this season. Teams are fearful without fans that they will lose money while players fear they will get paid well under market value with the revenue split. So there is hope, but don’t go buying tickets just yet.
The NBA also met on Tuesday, May 13th for a Board of Governors meeting after which they spoke with representatives of the NBA Players Association. There is optimism from both the board of governors as well as NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the possibility of basketball returning in 2020.
The main parts of the discussion between the two sides revolved around testing and how if there was a positive test for a player it would not immediately mean the cessation of play in the NBA. In order for the league to go on with their plans, most sources say they would not standardized testing for all 30 teams, but they did not discuss what number of positive tests would be too many and force the league to pause or cancel once again.
There was also some talk about a “bubble isolation” plan where the NBA would host most of its games in a couple of designated areas or arenas, limiting the players contact with non-NBA personnel. At the moment, the most encouraging sign is that the league expects 22 of the30 teams to have their facilities open by Monday, May 18th.
The NBA and NHL are in a similar boat. Both leagues are looking to resume their season – and possibly just jump ahead to the postseason – and both are reportedly interested in Las Vegas as a neutral site for games. The main issue thus far for the NHL is testing capabilities. Much like the NBA, the NHL is wary of what will happen if one player gets a test. Therefore, they want to have a complete testing protocol in place before they get back to their regular season. If the NHL is unable to resume their regular season, there are plans for an expanded playoff of 20 or even 24 teams if the season does come back. There is some somber news from minor league hockey as the AHL cancelled their season. The main difference between the AHL, and the real reason behind the closure, is that the AHL is completely dependent on gate revenue and fans going to the game. Because of this, a plan to restart the AHL season without fans did not make any economical sense.