Pro sports return on the horizon

NBA, NHL may resume play after three-month absence due to the coronavirus pandemic

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Photo courtesy of NBA.com

Sixers players Joel Embiid (left) and Ben Simmons are expected to travel to Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., when the NBA resumes play in July. The plan is that the top 22 teams will play games in Orlando and then take part in a 16-team playoff.

Andrew Eross, Staff Writer

It has been over ninety days since the last professional major sports game in the United States. That is almost a fourth of a year. 

Wow.

While sports fans have attempted to occupy themselves with European soccer or the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization), it does not come close to matching the excitement of watching either the MLB, MLS, NHL, or NBA, all of which would be in the midst of playing. 

This is especially the case for the NBA and NHL, which would be at the climax of their season, the playoffs. While there has been much excitement about a July return, nothing is guaranteed and dedicated fans must wait at least several weeks to see their favorite team.

NBA

The NBA return will have a short regular season and then playoffs at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. Players will lodge in the Disney hotels and utilize parks for their games. The plan set in place goes as follows: the top 22 teams will be flown out to Orlando (the 16 playoff teams along with the Wizards, Suns, Spurs, Pelicans, Kings, and Trail Blazers). They will then each play eight games to close out the regular season and determine final seeding. 

However, there is one oddity compared to the normal playoffs from here on out. If the ninth seed is within four games of the eighth seed (for either conference), there will be a small play-in tournament in which those teams play. The eighth seed will need to win one game over the ninth seed to remain in the playoffs, and for the ninth seed they must win two in a row to receive a playoff berth. 

From there, the playoffs will go as usual. 

Currently, the Lakers have the best odds to win the chip with the Bucks as the likely Eastern Conference winner. There will certainly be controversy coming with the champion, as some may argue this year’s playoffs come with less meaning. 

There have been reports that several players are not on board with the plan to return though, most notably Kyrie Irving (who will be sidelined due to injury) has spoken against it because of a fear it is a distraction to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN he was confident that the league and players will be able to work out concerns for a July 30 return. 

“We are trying to find a way to our own normalcy in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of essentially a recession or worse with 40 million unemployed, and now with enormous social unrest in the country,” Silver said. “And so as we work through these issues, I can understand how some players may feel, that it’s not for them … it may be for family reasons, it may be for health reasons they have, or it may be because they feel — as some players have said very recently — that their time is best spent elsewhere.”

NHL

On May 26, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released an almost official plan for the season to resume. This plan, backed up by the Players’ Association, includes terminating the regular season while implementing a 24-team playoff. The plan will begin with a few week training camp beginning no earlier than July 1, allowing players to get back in playing condition after several months off. 

A few weeks after camp, the playoffs will begin at a date to be determined — likely late July or early August.

Captain Claude Giroux and the Flyers finished with the sixth most points in the NHL prior to the coronavirus shutdown. They will hopefully resume their bid for a Stanley Cup in late July or early August when NHL play resumes. (Photo courtesy of NHL.com)

It will go as the following; the top four teams in each conference will receive a buy (this includes the Flyers in the Eastern Conference), and they will compete in a round robin system to decide seeding. 

The No. 5 through 12 seeds in both conferences will each participate in a five-game, play-in series. After this, the playoffs will have been narrowed down to sixteen teams, and a traditional playoff format will continue from there. 

It is yet to be determined if the first two rounds of the 16-team tournament will be five- or seven-game series. In addition, there will be two hub cities to host the teams (where each team can bring a max amount of fifty people), but these have not been determined. 

Despite this uncertainty, there is immense optimism for hockey coming back this summer. Even if no fans can attend, the NHL fan base may grow if it is the first American sport to be televised once again.

MLB

Major League Baseball has had recent doubts of having a 2020 season. Several ideas have been thrown around; for example the Arizona idea, where a “bubble” is created to contain players between the fields and hotels. Logistics of this did not end up working out, however, as it is unrealistic to keep players away from the family for several months. After this, it seemed like there was a chance for a July 4 season opener where each team would play at their home ballpark (with no fans of course). 

In recent weeks there has been less optimism baseball would return, however, as the owners have players association traded proposals neither could accept. 

The Phillies signed Zack Wheeler to help their rotation over the offseason. It is currently unknown when, or if, Major League baseball will return. (Photo courtesy of mlb.com)

One of the biggest disputes is money. Players have already agreed on prorated salaries (where their salaries are adjusted due to a shortened season). On top of this, owners have proposed players taking even more massive pay cuts for this season, especially those on the higher end of the payroll. One proposal was that players making $35 million will have their salaries reduced to $7.84M (22.4% of salary), players making $10M will instead receive $2.95M (29.5% of salary), and players making $1M will only receive $434K (43.4% of salary). This was quickly turned down by the MLBPA. 

Some big name players like 2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell are totally against playing with large pay cuts and risking their health, as Snell is instead preparing for the 2021 season.  New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman has also recently come out to say he doubts a season will be played. 

Along with financial uncertainty, the amount of games that would be played is still up in the air. There have been proposals of a 114-game season and 71-game season, and the most recent one being a 76-game season. However, they have all been rejected and the MLBPA will not propose a counter-offer. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred guaranteed a season while speaking during the MLB draft, but he has since walked that optimism back. If there was a season, at this point the most likely scenario would be around 50 games with full prorated salaries. 

The hope is the two sides can resolve their salary and game-amount issues as a summer without America’s pastime just feels wrong.

MLS and NWSL

The third major sport losing parts of the season due to the virus is soccer. Both men (MLS) and women (NWSL) professional soccer leagues in America were in the midst of starting their seasons, but have also gone into a hiatus due to the pandemic. 

On the bright side, both leagues will be returning this summer. 

For the MLS, they will be playing in Orlando, not far from the NBA. The goal is to begin June 24, where each team will participate in training before a shortened regular season then a playoff. It seems there will be a 16-team knockout tournament to decide a champion.

As for the NWSL, a similar approach is in the making, but instead of the hub area being Florida, games will instead be played in Utah. They will play a 25-game tournament (called the NWSL Challenge Cup) over a span of one month, where the first game is scheduled for June 27. 

Once again, this idea is still up in the works as only time will tell what develops with these plans. 

NFL, NCAA FOOTBALL

On a side note, the common thought is that the NFL season will be played with no fans.

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz delivers a pass during training camp last year. The beginning of training camp and the season is still being discussed by owners and players due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of WHYY.org)

Football is entertaining, however the atmosphere will be completely different as several teams are known for their intense environment within their home arena. Having no fans takes this extra intensity away from the sport.

 The largest concern for football comes with NCAA football, as people are not sure whether they will play. However, the SEC conference has come out and said they will be playing no matter what. If there is no season, the question lurks if players will be given another year of eligibility to account for the lost season.