Believe it or not, it has been three months since Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19 and sports were effectively put on hold for the time being. With that said, I’m still convinced that today is like March 95th, and not actually June 4th. With everything else going on in the country over the last week, the whole reason sports were canceled in the first place, the Coronavirus pandemic, has been somewhat forgotten. Heck, media outlets that covered the pandemic under a microscope for the last three months aren’t even mentioning that this “deadly disease” could be spreading tenfold with all of the “protests” occurring throughout the United States. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because they finally realized this “deadly disease” isn’t nearly the threat to most people as everyone initially thought. Rather, it seems that the media has just completely moved on from the pandemic to the protests, or should I say riots, as they now have something else to place blame on President Trump.
Okay, that’s enough politics – let’s stick to sports, or should I say…. “Shut up and dribble.” Sure, the Bundesliga in Germany has resumed play and the KBO, South Korean baseball, has been featured on ESPN2 every day in the dead of night, but that just won’t cut it. The Last Dance, the documentary featuring Michael Jordan and the 90’s Chicago Bulls, aired each Sunday for five weeks but even that feels like it was months ago. There was part two of “The Match” featuring all-time golfers Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, as well as future hall of fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, which was the perfect mix of trash talking and competition. But let’s be honest, that occupied us for only a couple hours or so. Then, there’s the UFC; and I was the first to give Dana White credit for expediting their return to action. But, as much as all those leagues and events serve as nice, brief distractions, I, for one, prefer the four major team sports.
Speaking of those main sports, it seems like the only thing we’ve gotten from them so far is preliminary talks about how to resume, but no real action being taken on the actual resumption of play. Then, there’s the announcements by these sports leagues announcing when they’ll release their plans to either start or restart their seasons. You gotta love the announcements…. about a future announcement!
Anyway, let’s update you on where each sport currently is with their plans to resume play, and my take on why exactly they haven’t started already.
The NBA announced yesterday their proposed plan to resume the season and playoffs in Orlando, and then approved that plan today. Teams would begin a training camp around July 1st before eventually restarting on July 31st and potentially playing until as late as October 12th. The set plan is for only 22 teams, the 16 current playoff teams along with five more from the Western Conference (New Orleans, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, and Sacramento) and one from the Eastern Conference (Washington), to return to action isolated in Orlando. Each team will play eight more regular season games to determine playoff seeding, and a play-in tournament for the 8th and final seed in each conference would occur if the 9th seed was four or less games behind the 8th seed. The 8th seed would have to win once, while the 9th seed would have to pull off consecutive upsets to steal the final playoff spot. After that, the traditional playoff format would take over with four rounds of best-of-seven series to determine the NBA champion.
Given the unique circumstances, I don’t have much to nitpick about the NBA’s plan to resume play. Considering there was an idea to completely reseed the entire playoff field from 1 to 16 disregarding conferences, I think they made a wise decision sticking with the original conferences in order to avoid the “asterisk” that would’ve been placed on the championship regardless of who ended up winning. In terms of the “extra” teams coming back, my personal opinion is that the NBA will do whatever they can to get either the Trail Blazers or the Pelicans into the playoffs as the 8th seed over the Memphis Grizzlies. Yes, Ja Morant is a young star, but the viewership that having potentially Zion or Damian Lillard against LeBron and the Lakers in the first round is inevitable and something the league won’t ignore.
My only area of question with the NBA is why they are waiting so long to resume. Sure, these guys haven’t played a real game in months, but I refuse to believe that they haven’t been at least working out and getting some shots up in the gym or at home. Not to mention, these guys are professional athletes in peak performance shape. So why exactly do they need another two months to get back into playing shape? Also, why would they wait so long to the point that their playoffs end up competing for viewership with the NFL and college football in the fall. There is still a lot that could go wrong with this, but in the end, I applaud Adam Silver and the NBA for putting a firm plan in place to return.
Major League Baseball is a complete shit show right now. When every other league is making a dignified effort to return to action, the MLB appears as if they aren’t even trying. I tried to think of a nicer way to put it, but I ultimately thought that was an accurate description of how things are going. “Laughingstock” is probably the best word to describe them at this point in time. During a time where nearly 40 million Americans are unemployed wondering when their next paycheck will be, a bunch of millionaires (the players) and billionaires (the owners) are fighting over money. Yep, pretty ironic, isn’t it?
Back at the beginning of negotiations, the players agreed to take prorated salaries, meaning they would make an amount of their annual salary determined by the number of games played in the season. Sounds like a fair deal, right? Well, not according to the billionaire owners. They wanted the players to take ANOTHER pay cut on top of the already prorated salaries, without really providing a reason to justify it. I side with the players in this case, but it’s really embarrassing that the two sides can’t come to an agreement. Baseball should already be back right now, but how about an opening day on the Fourth of July to provide a much-needed distraction for people around the country? If the MLB made that happen, they would be heroes.
The NHL made the classic announcement about another future announcement last week, pretty much tricking people into thinking they were coming back. IF they are able to resume play, they have decided to forego the remainder of the regular season and instead invite back 24 teams for an expanded Stanley Cup playoff. The most important part of that statement? The “IF”. The league made this grand announcement with an awesome plan to return to action, but they never provided a return date or location to make this plan an actual possibility. Hockey faces a more challenging return than other leagues due to the physical nature of the sport and obviously finding ice, but I just question their real intentions behind releasing their plan. Was it to actually return to playing, or was it simply to create some hype and get the NHL back in the news?
§ PGA Tour
The PGA tour will resume action next week for the first time since The Players Championship was halted three months after the first round due to Coronavirus. If you enjoy watching golf, though, you are in for a jampacked schedule full of action for the next five months or so. Although The Open Championship was canceled due to its location overseas in Europe, the major tournaments will get back on track starting with the PGA Championship in August, followed by the U.S. Open in September, and concluding with The Masters in November to wrap everything up. Not to mention, the always rowdy and competitive Ryder Cup between the United States and Europe is tentatively scheduled for the week after the U.S. Open in September.
My only question concerning the PGA and golf in general is why they took such a long break in the first place. Considering most golf courses around the country never closed for the general public, why couldn’t the PGA tour still be organizing and playing tournaments as originally scheduled? I understand the initial decision to halt play, but I don’t agree with the three-month layoff.
As much shit as Roger Goodell receives for being a robot in terms of his personality and how he runs the NFL, it’s hard to complain about anything he’s done since the pandemic started. He managed to pull off an overall very successful draft from his basement that featured Joe Burrow going #1 overall and received the best ratings and viewership ever. Not only was the draft successful, but Goodell and the league added an additional team per conference to the playoff format and have been full-steam-ahead in their plans to have a normal season with fans in attendance for week one. Although that might end up being out of their control, he and the league deserve the utmost credit for how they’ve handled everything with all that is going on.
§ NCAA Football
As of now, the college football season is looking more promising than it has since the pandemic started back in March. Many people wondered if students would even be back on campus in the fall until most of the 50 states recently decided to allow fall athletes back as early as June 1st. As weird as it is to imagine, the only thing in question really is whether or not fans will be allowed at games. By the time the football season comes around in September, I think everyone should have the option of attending games. If I had the option, I would be in the stadium rooting on my team week one and I think I speak for the majority of fans.
As much as I complained this entire blog about why sports haven’t started back up sooner, I can’t help but to imagine what the months of August through November could look like on a sports calendar. If everything goes to plan, it seems like we could have the NBA and NHL playoffs, MLB regular season, football season (both college and NFL), and major golf tournaments occurring simultaneously. That, right there, is what every sports fans’ wet dreams consist of. For those that like to dip their toes into the sports gambling waters, the opportunity to win a Brinks-truck load of money will most definitely be there. I’m not even going to consider the possibility of losing that much… because we will all be winners when sports return and we have something to distract us from the craziness going on in the world around us.