With the majority of the United States, and the entire world for that matter, under some sort of lockdown, people are becoming anxious to get back to work and get everything back to normal. In times of crisis in the United States, people often turn to sports as an escape or a distraction reality of the pandemic. The first things that come to mind are president George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch after the 9/11 attacks, and David Ortiz’s speech after the Boston Marathon bombings. In this unique circumstance, however, there is no real escape for sports-loving Americans.
It has only been about a month since Rudy Gobert’s Coronavirus diagnosis effectively shut down all sports, but I constantly find myself wondering if I will ever see another sporting event. It feels like a year ago that my worst nightmare was sprung upon me as March Madness was canceled, and all other pro leagues postponed their seasons. For me, specifically, everything I do revolves around sports: reading about them, writing about them, watching games, and heck, I even enjoy watching other people talk about sports. I don’t know how much more I can take of The Office, Tiger King, or these daily White House briefings that I watch only for lack of anything better. At this point, I would do anything to bring sports back – I just need some type of ball moving around on my TV.
My previous statements might not portray this, I am keeping more of an optimistic view on this situation than most people. In Asia, although some believe China has severely underreported their data of cases and deaths, it appears that they have contained the spread for the most part. In Europe, where the virus spread after Asia, the worst-hit countries like Italy, Spain, and Germany have all shown significant signs of “flattening the curve.” In Italy, daily cases of infections have been lower for nearly two weeks since a peak on March 21st. A similar pattern has occurred for the past week in Spain and Germany, as Europe now seems to have a grasp on slowing the spread of the virus.
With all that being said about the rest of the world, I see a similar pattern taking shape within the United States. Even with the peak of the virus likely coming in the next week or so, I think we will be on the downslope of this whole situation by the end of April. This would hopefully lead to a return to a sense of normalcy by the middle of May or the beginning of June. Therefore, I could see sports returning anywhere from the beginning of June to the middle of July.
Even though WrestleMania 36 went on as planned this past weekend, it wasn’t quite the same without the large venue and fan interaction that typically takes place. Similarly, people keep coming up with ideas for sports fans like the NBA 2K players tournament and the proposed idea of NBA players competing in games of H-O-R-S-E remotely. Twitter even did their job in guilting ESPN into releasing the Michael Jordan documentary months early, as that will now air in the middle of April. However, nothing compares to actual live sports night in and night out.
So, with the varying obstacles that each league will encounter as they attempt to either start or restart their season, let’s take a look at how and where each of the main sports leagues can get going.
· PGA Tour
The golfing world teased us last week with the potential of a 1-on-1 rematch between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but this time with a catch. This second matchup would feature hall of fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady teaming up with Woods and Mickelson, respectively. While it seemed like a real possibility when the news first came out, nothing has really progressed in the talks to confirm the event.
In terms of the entire PGA tour returning, I have been saying all along that I think golf could and should be the first sport to come back. The PGA came out and announced that they are hoping for a mid-June return to action with the major tournaments being played at the end of the summer and into the fall. Obviously, fans wouldn’t be able to attend the events, but golf is a sport that the players and their caddies could easily distance themselves from each other. They would need to simply test everyone a couple weeks before the first event, then do the same upon arrival the week of the tournament. In terms of logistics, just leave the flag in the hole when putting to avoid cross-contamination issues and have a designated person on each hole to rake the bunkers. The PGA should take advantage of this opportunity, in these unique circumstances, to attract greater viewership.
· NBA & NHL
Since the NBA canceled back in early March, there has been a number of options mentioned for how and where they could restart and finish the season. The first location would be in Las Vegas, as the entire area is vacant with all casinos and clubs shut down. The second option that seems a little more far-fetched (although Dana White and the UFC have reportedly made this happen) is the NBA taking over an island, like the Bahamas, and moving players there for the remainder of the season. For the NHL, there have been reports that they could potentially finish their season and the playoffs in North Dakota, a state much less affected by the Coronavirus than others.
With both the NBA and NHL nearing the end of their regular seasons when they were forced to postpone, I would propose that both leagues skip straight to the playoffs. I would also propose the idea of shortening playoff series from the typical best-of-seven format to best-of-three. This would make each game that much more important and it would allow the leagues and players to get done sooner. If I were in Adam Silver’s shoes, I would be booking Las Vegas right now for a short training camp in the middle of May, followed by the playoffs beginning around June. Start testing all players periodically at the end of April and continue doing so when play begins in Vegas.
The MLB has reportedly looked into moving all 30 teams to Arizona to isolate them and play the entirety of the season there. My initial idea was to use either the Arizona or Florida spring training sites in order to at least get the season going until teams could go back to playing games in their home cities. There would be many ways to make this happen – all 30 teams in Arizona, all 30 teams in Florida, or maybe even splitting up the two leagues, National and American, between the two locations. This way, you could play all of the shortened regular season, proceed with the playoffs for both leagues, and then hopefully by the time the World Series came around the two teams could meet up to play somewhere. They could even have the playoffs pushed back to November to allow more regular season games to be played, and then continue with a warm-weather neutral site to host the World Series. Whatever happens, let’s just hope Rob Manfred and the MLB get something finalized so we can all boo the Astros and watch them get thrown at game after game.
· NFL & College Football
Continuing with my optimistic view on this entire situation, I am going to say that the NFL and college football will both begin their seasons as initially planned, but possibly without fans to begin with. By the time football season comes around in late August, I fully believe that the United States will be moving past this pandemic. Although some experts are predicting a possible second wave of the virus next fall or winter when the weather turns cold again, I would like to think that we will have a better grasp next time around if that does occur. With so many people already being immune to it after dealing with the virus the first time, this would allow us to keep our country open and not shut everything down. First and foremost, let’s just hope and plan for this to be the only occurrence of the virus so we can all enjoy some football in the fall.
Things get complicated when it comes to international competitions and events because of the varied handling of the virus from country to country. For example, the British Open golf tournament scheduled for July has already been canceled. Within the United States, though, once we get this virus completely under control, we are set for possibly the best five month stretch in sports history. Depending upon how and when all the different leagues handle their business, we could potentially have the Stanley Cup playoffs and NBA playoffs leading us right into the start of the football season. At the same time, baseball will be in full swing, while the PGA has scheduled the PGA Championship for August, US Open for September, and the Masters tournament for November. Not to mention, the Kentucky Derby is tentatively scheduled for the first weekend in September, and the Ryder Cup will take place as originally scheduled at the end of September. Among other things, I’m fairly confident a large majority of Americans miss sports for their gambling, tailgating, and drinking purposes than for the actual games. The point is – if we all sacrifice a couple weeks or even a month right now to socially distance ourselves, just imagine all of the sports we will have daily and weekly when we get past this virus.