Before I dive into this, just another reminder that sports are largely irrelevant in comparison to, you know, the safety of the human race. But we want sports back, so we’ll talk about it. Here are five thoughts on various ideas that have been floated when it comes to the potential return of sports.
1. The NFL can have a schedule release show all they want, but the rest of us should be legally obligated to refer to it as a “schedule release show.”
Because we already know all of the opponents for each team before the schedule is released, the only interesting parts of a schedule release are A) learning the dates those games will happen, and B) most specifically, how many and which of your favorite team’s games will be in prime time.
As we have absolutely no idea whether the games will happen at all and more-than-reasonable doubt regarding whether they’re played as scheduled, the dates are almost entirely irrelevant. And the prime-time announcements are only remotely interesting IF the league confirms that should there be a delay, the games would all be played as scheduled whenever the season does start. (So “Week 1” would still be “Week 1” whether it happens in September or late November … or 2021.)
In a climate where many of us were so sports-deprived that we at least poked at largely irrelevant basketball players playing H-O-R-S-E via cell phone video, I get why the league is still planning a schedule release show for early May. It will be a ratings boon. But until we have any idea of what the world might look like, this is a comical exercise.
2. Perhaps the NFL schedule might be salvageable with empty stadiums. But Ken Niumatalolo is right that it wouldn’t work for college football.
I’m not sure whether there will be enough rapid testing to even make empty-stadium football a possibility for the NFL this fall. There is no sport that would require more “essential” personnel to be present for each game, and the same type of screening would be needed for every practice. Empty-stadium football in general just might not be at all practical.
That’s what Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo thinks — and I am more inclined to agree with him. Niumatalolo can’t fathom playing a sport with as much close interaction as football at a time when things are still dangerous enough that fans can’t be near each other in the stands. But even more relevant at the college level, the return of football would require at least a good amount of additional staff present on campuses for food, facilities, administration, security, etc. Imagine the pushback from the general public if a state school like Maryland decided it would relax rules/requirements specifically for the purpose of allowing empty-stadium football games to be played.
Could you fathom Gov. Larry Hogan having going to a news conference and saying, “Yes, we’ve brought back a staff of people to help the Maryland football team get ready to play Northern Illinois in a game you can’t attend … but you still can’t go visit your nieces and nephews!” There’s just no way that would be acceptable.
Maybe there will be empty-stadium games, but I just don’t see it happening for college football. When we’re at a place where gatherings are an option again, college football will be back. Like Niumatalolo, I think it’s unlikely that’ll be around Labor Day.
3. No one thinks the Florida-Arizona idea for baseball is ideal. But the alternatives are basically nonexistent.
My former radio co-host Drew Forrester seemed particularly dismissive of baseball’s apparent plan to play empty-stadium games with isolated teams in Florida and Arizona all year, suggesting the concept to be so foreign to actual baseball that the champions shouldn’t really be able to claim they were World Series winners.
He’s not inherently wrong. But I’m in favor of there being baseball in 2020, and it seems less and less likely that it will happen in any other way than this entirely bizarre scenario. Clearly players won’t want to spend four-plus months away from their families. There will be more problems with the plan –like having to play such a significant number of games outdoors in Arizona in July, when the average temperature is roughly 10 times the number of consecutive days you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants.
So yes, this would be weird as hell. But it would be the baseball season we had in 2020, and we can all live with that reflection in the history books. And I’ll secretly be rooting for a player who signed a one-year deal this year to have an overwhelming impact on their new team (like Pudge Rodriguez in 2003) and become a folk hero in a city where they literally never played a baseball game before signing elsewhere. (Someone like Marcell Ozuna in Atlanta, maybe.)
4. Bob Huggins might be on to something. I’m on board for an NCAA Tournament in the fall … just not REALLY an NCAA Tournament.
During a Pittsburgh radio interview, the West Virginia coach suggested that when (but more realistically, “if”) basketball comes back in the fall, the NCAA should actually START the season with the NCAA Tournament. He even said that graduating seniors should be allowed to come back and play for their former teams and … it’s actually not a terrible idea.
But we have to be realistic. This WOULDN’T be the NCAA Tournament. Far too many players will be moving on to pro careers. If basketball is back at all, they won’t be able to abandon their professional dreams, even for an event that might only last for a couple of weeks at most. Plus there have been about a billion transfers so far throughout the sport. These teams won’t be even remotely similar.
And in a “sports have finally returned” world, things will be far too oversaturated for this hypothetical event to be the marquee sports event in the country. There won’t be hundreds of millions of dollars in TV money to be made (which is why this almost certainly won’t happen). But there would still likely be enough networks interested in the content to attempt to do it anyway, making the games exempt toward the teams’ records for next season.
5. The NBA and NHL should be in no rush to simply cancel their seasons. They control their own calendars in this new landscape.
If these leagues can’t play games again until, say, November, there’s still no reason to simply cancel the season and move on to the next one. They should be prepared to go to the bargaining table with their respective players’ associations to try to hammer out a way to finish up the current seasons and delay the start of the next one (and maybe even future seasons) until getting back to a normal schedule is possible one day down the road.
And again, let’s just hope normal schedules are even a possibility down the road.
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