Late starts and shortened playoffs? How will this all play out?
As the fears surrounding the coronavirus mount, organizations are taking drastic steps to keep their employees, clients, and customers safe. The NBA, one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the country, suspended its season this week after 48 hours of confusion: The Golden State Warriors had planned to play games in an empty arena, per a San Francisco ordinance. The Philadelphia 76ers put out a letter to their fans stating that anyone who felt sick or had been near someone sick should not attend a game.
Thankfully, these half measures were never given the chance to be implemented, as the season was officially suspended Wednesday night when former Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, was diagnosed with COVID-19, dramatically ending the game between his Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder before it even began.
American sports fans are used to seasons starting late or not happening at all (NHL), or championships not being played (MLB), due to labor disputes or natural disasters. But not since World War II has a major American sports league suspended games in the middle of the season, so we are very much in uncharted territory. The NHL, MLS, and MLB has joined the NBA in suspending their seasons; how will four of the five biggest sports leagues in the country handle this?
The NHL and NBA find themselves in the most difficult position of all the major sports leagues, as both regular leagues are about 66 games into their 82-game regular seasons, play in large arenas that they cannot use indefinitely, and have players that hail from all over the world. Canceling the playoffs would be the worst outcome for both the leagues and the fans, but since the playoffs are the biggest moneymaker for both the NBA and the NHL, fans shouldn’t worry about cancellation. Both leagues will reconsider playing games in 30 days, hoping that the virus will be at least contained by then.
What seems like the most likely outcome is that the NBA and NHL will both have truncated regular seasons and try to start their respective playoffs a few weeks late, if not on time. The worst-case scenario, short of the seasons being canceled outright, is a shortened playoff for both leagues. Both leagues use best-of-seven-game series to determine who advances through the playoffs. So, if concern is still high into May, be prepared for shorter playoff series.
Baseball has a much simpler path, but it still faces challenges distinct from the other leagues. Luckily the regular season for MLB has not started yet, so the virus isn’t disrupting teams that are in full swing and crisscrossing the country. But baseball is steeped in tradition, in the early spring start and in the 162-game season.
I have attended every Phillies home opener for the last seven years, and my best friend and I circled the scheduled April 6 date back in December. It appears, though, that the opener will be on a later, as-yet-undecided date. Many baseball diehards will not be happy if only 135 games are played, or if worse comes to worst, a truncated playoff in October comes to pass.
Tell us in the comments what you will do during the upcoming month without sports!