Should Sports Return?

Franklin Markel, staff writer

As the whole world has been put on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic, the sports world has also been halted. Both the NBA and NHL paused their 2019-2020 seasons among league playoff races, the MLB has delayed the start of its 2020 season, and the NFL has delayed many offseason events like rookie training camps and has had to adjust some other events like free agency and the draft. Collegiate wise, the NCAA cancelled all remaining college basketball tournaments including conference tournaments and March Madness. The NCAA also dropped all winter tournaments including the frozen four hockey tournament. Spring sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse, spring football, and others, were all put to an abrupt cancelation for their 2020 season. Now 50 plus days into this worldwide lockdown, multiple sports leagues are trying to find ways to salvage seasons, but is that really worth it?

One thing everyone wants back is normality. A normal life, with normal guidelines, and sports fans want normal sports. If these sports do force a return to finish their seasons, the return and coming years would be anything but normal. 

First let’s start with the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver has officially postponed the NBA draft combine and the NBA draft lottery. It’s only a matter of time until the June 25th NBA draft gets postponed. As of now the league has no date circled on the calendar for a possible return. That shows that it’s going to be a while before basketball tips off again. The league has made it clear that they’re open to delaying the start of next year’s season to Christmas, with a season ending in August. That would create a situation where starting in October becomes tough the following year, because players want their offseason. So at that point it seems that the NBA is stuck in a cycle where they either shorten an upcoming season or heavily shorten an offseason. A normal basketball season looks a long ways away if the league presses this return. There are also problems if the NBA does return. The NBA needs a universal place to play, like Vegas or Disney World. Staff and players would have to be cut down to a much more manageable number. Tests would have to be distributed to every person in the site on a regular basis, and what happens when one payer tests positive? Cancelling the season, however, gives the league time that they don’t have by trying to restart it and that time results in a safer and better plan for return.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has virtually said the same things as Silver. The NHL is open to a December start for their 2020-2021 season. For the rest of this year, the NHL is reportedly targeting an August return with teams playing at a central location and “Multiple games per day.” One issue with that is these players haven’t played in over a month, and then you ask them to play not just one, but multiple games in a day. That scenario played out by the NHL seems especially risky, and not just because of the virus. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has basically said he doesn’t want NHL players coming into Canada. He issued a mandatory quarantine before any payers could safely integrate into the Canadian society. This takes away the opportunity for games to be played in Canada, or at least without a delay in proceedings. Another key issue that will haunt the NHL, as the NHL Players Association has alluded to, is the players on teams that aren’t fighting for a playoff spot have no interest in playing a season. Packing your bags to leave your family and go off into isolation for months during a global pandemic isn’t very appealing to all these fathers. I don’t see a way any sports come back without player support. 

The NFL has time and nothing major has been decided yet so there’s not much to talk about there. Where this gets really interesting is college sports. The universities absolutely need football. They literally cannot pay the bills without it. Many power schools have already made budget cuts and even cut certain sports programs simply because they lost March Madness money. Football makes the average power five school 31.9 million dollars. What do you think a loss of that revenue would do? The schools need football. Another aspect where this gets interesting is that the NCAA does not have the power of professional leagues. The NBA can tell all of its teams to meet in Vegas and start a training camp. The NCAA can’t do that. Almost all of these universities are somewhat state funded but all of them have to follow state guidelines. If Missouri is opened up but Kansas isn’t, Kansas University can’t practice or play any games. What happens to the 12 teams that were slated to play Kansas? Do they play one less game? Another crucial aspect is that these states are returning at different times. Say Rutgers plays Michigan on November 1st. Michigan has allowed students to return to campus since August 1st, meaning Michigan has had three months of practice. New Jersey however just let students return October 15th, meaning Rutgers has had two weeks of practice. How is that fair to Rutgers? These are all hypotheticals but they’re definitely problems that these schools will face eventually. College sports are on a different scale when it comes to decision making here because their whole universities depend on this money.

But what if professional sports leagues just cancel the remaining season? That is where fans would get their normality. The NBA and NHL could have much more time to come up with a plan for starting up in October like usual, rather than trying to make a plan to start next week when every day the severity and situation around the world changes. The NFL is planning on the season starting in September like usual and they’re in the boat where they have a lot of time before key decisions have to be made. The MLB however is in an interesting position. They haven’t even started their season yet, and as a summer sport it doesn’t look good for them. Baseball can’t be played in December, there is no way around that. Perhaps the idea of an isolated league in Florida might be the best option to salvage a season, but normality in baseball is going to have to wait till at least Spring 2021.

I, for one, think it would be better for these leagues to punt away the remaining season, and return for 2020-2021 seasons as scheduled. The one deciding factor in all of this is and always will be money. These leagues are racing to be the first back because the TV ratings for any sport event right now would be through the roof. The recent ‘virtual’ NFL Draft in late April was the most watched draft of all time. People are dying for sports to come back, but by rushing it the sports world can be shoved into an even more eerie and weird situation. That’s why I believe that simply cancelling the remaining seasons and returning in the fall as scheduled for the NBA, NHL, and NFL are the best ideas.