Yes, it was only one month ago today that the NBA suspended play following the positive coronavirus test of Rudy Gobert, triggering an avalanche of sports cancellations that has resulted in a 31-day wasteland consisting merely of NFL free agency, one (and only one) UFC event, and a smattering of pro wrestling. So where are we when it comes to returning to the field, the court, the rink, the wherever?
An idea has percolated regarding a reconvening of the league and a completion of the season in a single city, like Las Vegas. With each passing day, however, players are getting farther out of playing shape, sparking concerns that up to a month would be necessary to get them ready to go.
With no obvious date for beginning an in-season preseason and up to a month needed to prepare players to compete, at some point it will simply make sense to pull the plug on 2019-20 and focus on preparations and strategies for having a 2020-21 season.
The NHL would like to find a way to conclude its regular season and conduct a postseason. Hockey shut down with 189 regular-season games remaining.
On Friday, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN that cities throughout North America have expressed interest in hosting neutral-site postseason games, from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Manchester, New Hampshire to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“We do have people putting together the comprehensive laundry list of what we would need from facilities and evaluating some facilities on some level,” Daly told ESPN. “But I can’t tell you we’ve even finished creating a list [of potential sites], much less narrowed it down.”
As with the NBA, players will need to get themselves back in shape. As with the NBA, a practical deadline surely exists for abandoning 2019-20 and turning to 2020-21.
Baseball has been kicking around the possibility of taking all 30 teams to Arizona and starting the season, presumably staying there until the world returns at least to semi-normal. Players understandably are leery about the prospect of being separated from their families for an extended period of time.
Of course, players without families would have fewer qualms about the Camp Baseball concept. And players with families could be replaced by minor leaguers, since the lower levels of the sport will be shut down if fans can’t attend, given the absence of revenue sources other than ticket sales.
The fate of college football could become a microcosm of the broader American political divide. Coaches like Mullet Mike Gundy will insist on trying to play. Administrators will struggle to justify shutting down campuses to everyone but the football team.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently addressed the dynamics of the situation.
“Virtually every program is highly reliant on football revenue,” Bowlsby told ESPN. “We’re making lots of contingency plans, but if you don’t get the anticipated number of games in, you lose the donations, you lose the sponsorships, you lose the gate receipts and you lose the TV. It’s potentially very impactful.”
As previously noted, schools at some point will have to drop the student-athlete facade if efforts to play on-campus football become more focused and determined and successful than efforts to hold on-campus classes. Given the money that the schools will be losing, many won’t hesitate to abandon the ruse and admit that football players constitute cogs in a gigantic money-printing machine.
Much like the inconsistent way the various states have implemented (or not) stay at home orders, don’t be surprised if some schools and/or conferences decide to bail on football for 2020 while other schools and/or conferences (specifically the most profitable ones) do all they can to find a way to play.
Pro football didn’t flinch in the face of the pandemic, trudging forward with free agency despite glitches that still linger nearly a month later. Plenty of players haven’t been able to take physicals, and in turn haven’t been able to finalize their contracts. Some necessarily will be at risk of eventually having their tentative deals yanked if their new teams have a younger and cheaper option fall into their laps during the draft.
As to the draft, the league also hasn’t flinched, despite what will be a dramatic adjustment to the process. After the stay-at-home draft, then what?
There likely will be no offseason programs, as the NFL and NFL Players Association continue to try to come up with a plan for allowing players to earn workout bonuses by working out at home. At some point, the NFL’s “we plan to play” mantra will have to yield to a more pragmatic approach: We’ll have a plan for whatever may happen.
Those plans, for all sports, must include the possibility of not playing at all. If no feasible alternative can be identified based on a virus that will set the timeline as to when reality returns, the only realistic option will be to continue to wait.
For the virus to run its course. For widespread antibody testing that will determine the people who already have had the virus. For a vaccine. For a cure.
As to all sports, events well beyond the field, the court, the rink, the wherever will determine whenever the time is right for sports to return.