The Return (or non-return) of Team Sports in America

This past weekend, while I watched with excitement the restart of the Premier League, I was struck with a thought (two thoughts really, the first was “how in the hell did Harry Kane forget how to run?”): will American (team) sports actually be able to return anytime soon? Should they even return anytime soon?

Timetable-wise, the United States is still at least a month away from the planned restart of team sports. And, to varying degrees, on paper it looks like this could happen.

But just this past weekend, Golfer Nick Watney tested positive for Covid-19 DURING a PGA Tour Event in South Carolina and ultimately withdrew. And if the sport of golf can’t avoid the Coronavirus, I don’t have much hope for everyone else.

So with 2020 being 2020 all over the place, let’s take a brief look at a few specific examples of how the major sports plan on returning, and what issues may arise when they do come back.

We’ll start with basketball, the team sport that seems the most prepared and I think has the best chance to successfully complete their season.

At first glance, their plan seems BONKERS – Gather the top 22 teams (according to the standings when the season was suspended…oof, have a nice summer Chicago Bulls) in a “Bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney World, Orlando to play out the remainder of the regular season and the play-offs.

No fans, no travel, and (hopefully) a good chance to finish the season with minimal risk.

I absolutely LOVE this plan, it’s inventive, exciting and – based on the 100 pages of guidelines and rules the league just published – very well thought out.

The only real concern I see here is that Orlando happens to be in the state of Florida, which is currently experiencing an increase in cases since restrictions have started to be lifted.

And now for something nearer the opposite end of the spectrum: baseball, who have just recently agreed on a plan to move ahead after weeks of tense labour negotiations (which basically amounted to greedy millionaire players fighting with greedy billionaire owners, something we can obviously all relate to).

Unlike basketball or hockey, the baseball season hadn’t even started when the pandemic hit, so it’s not as easy as just going into a bubble for 6 or 8 weeks to finish the season, we’re talking about the bulk of 5 months.

The plan as it currently stands is to have a shortened 60 game season (just over 1/3 of the standard 162 games) beginning at the end of July. Games will be played in empty home stadiums, with travel slightly limited to each teams geographic / divisional area.

As thrilled as I am to have my beloved baseball back, this plan brings with it concerns, namely keeping everyone safe. Even within a geographic area, that is still A LOT of travel in a sport that has large rosters to begin with.

It’s sadly a foregone conclusion that there will be cases of Covid-19 among the players and staff. Let’s just hope they are limited and won’t derail the season before it even starts.

I actually may like the plan for hockey even better than the plan for basketball: Forgo the remainder of the regular season – there wasn’t much left to be played anyway – and put the Top 24 teams into a knockout tournament held in two hub cities.

This is AMAZING. They just made hockey the World Cup. And similar to basketball, it goes beyond the standard excitement of sports just being back into something truly unique. And better yet, my mediocre Chicago Blackhawks juuuuuust squeak in… Cinderella story, anyone?

Lastly, I’ll quickly touch on the American football as there are more questions than answers here. With the season not scheduled to being until September, the league is mostly (publicly) taking a wait and see approach.

This is probably a smart move as September is light years away in 2020 time. Will a second wave hit by then? Will a miracle vaccine be discovered early? Will Tom Brady die of old age? Only time will tell.

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