There’s been some recent controversial talk at the federal level about the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the highly volatile COVID-19 picture.
However, for the moment, both sports leagues and their fans remain firmly in the dark as to when competition will be viable again.
Given the timing of the pandemic, each major sports organization has been affected in different ways – suspensions or outright cancellation of tournaments/seasons and significantly overhauled events have forcibly become the norm.
Yet one thing is certain during a time where precious little is – sports will endure and return, even if whatever iterations of it carried out in 2020 ultimately go down as major anomalies in each league’s/organization’s annals.
Hard as it is to envision at present, some clarity in the sports landscape will inevitably be achieved over the next several weeks and months.
Here is a snapshot of where each major sport stands at the moment in its outlook for the rest of the calendar year.
Current status: Still intending to play some type of regular season and postseason.
MLB has most recently announced it won’t start their regular season before mid-May, although that seems increasingly unrealistic. That follows an original postponement of Opening Day from March 26 to April 9.
Moreover, what the season will look like, how long it will extend and how the postseason will unfold all remain the subject of much speculation.
Current rumblings include talk of playing a sub-162-game regular season, one which extends into October and then features potential neutral-site playoff games and a World Series in November. Weekly doubleheaders — perhaps shortened to seven innings — and a canceled All-Star break have also been thrown out as possibilities to cram as many live dates in as possible.
And, the latest contingency to come to light involves potentially starting the season in either spring training state – Florida or Arizona – and playing a certain amount of games in those parks without fans. Players and team staff would essentially be living in their own quarantined commune while what is hoped to be the final vestiges of the pandemic slowly wither away.
The viability of such a plan, especially from a health standpoint, remains undetermined at the moment. However, Jeff Passan of ESPN reported Tuesday that talks between MLB and MLBPA have begun ramping up in recent days and the idea reportedly has the backing of federal officials at both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institute of Health (NIH).
|Regular Season||140-to-150-game season with June 1 start date.|
|Postseason||November playoffs and World Series.|
Current status: Ideally wants to finish some sort of truncated regular season and hold a postseason.
The NBA was a trailblazer of sorts in the current sports moratorium. The Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert was essentially major U.S. sports’ Patient Zero for coronavirus, testing positive right before a March 11 tip-off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His diagnosis initiated the slew of sports-related postponements and cancellations that would soon rule the headlines.
Gobert ultimately proved to be the first of several NBA players and team staff to contract the illness. However, as far as has been made public, all those individuals have now completed quarantining periods and subsequently tested negative.
That bit of good news still doesn’t leave the NBA with any firm re-start date. And, in early April, there was actually increasing pessimism the league would be able to re-start at all prior to the preseason attached to the 2020-21 campaign.
However, that’s not to say the league hasn’t been busy behind the scenes fleshing out possibilities of still salvaging a season that only had an average of 17-20 games per team remaining.
One common scenario discussed involves the league gathering all its teams in one location such as Las Vegas, carrying out a “play-in” type of tournament to determine final playoff seeding, and eventually holding a multi-round postseason, all without fans present.
Naturally, like MLB’s similar plan for starting the season in one location, the scenario does carry plenty of health concerns which would have to be satisfactorily addressed before it could be seriously considered.
|Regular Season||Abbreviated regular-season games are played after brief ramp-up period. No fans, one location.|
|Postseason||Played in their regular format into late summer. No fans.|
Current status: Ideally wants to finish some sort of truncated regular season and hold a postseason.
The NHL suspended its season less than 24 hours after the NBA made its March 11th announcement. Unlike the NBA, there seems to be more palpable optimism hockey will be played again before the 2020-21 campaign.
The recent cancellation of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo creates a prominent hole in the summer TV schedule for NBC and its affiliated networks in July and August. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly notes that buys some previously unexpected time to finish the season and hold the full postseason. As such, the league has been inquiring about availability of arenas into late August.
Therefore, the possibility of returning to the ice certainly remains. However, it’s worth noting a sizable chunk of the league’s offseason calendar has already fallen victim to postponement: the Scouting Combine, Bridgestone Awards and draft, all originally slated to unfold in June, will no longer take place as scheduled.
|Event||Best Case Scenario|
|Regular Season||Season resumes in early summer after brief ramp-up period and is played out as scheduled.|
|Postseason||Played out as scheduled and in intended locations.|
Current status: Modifying offseason events, but still planning to start training camp, preseason and regular season on time.
The NFL is the only one of the four major US professional sports leagues that had the relative luxury of being in full offseason mode when COVID-19 began its spread in earnest. That’s not to say they haven’t experienced disruption as well, considering the league has successfully evolved into a year-round component of the sports news cycle.
The NFL got the annual Scouting Combine in just under the deadline, so to speak. Yet all other forms of traditional pre-draft preparations have taken a hit.
Spring stalwarts such as pro days, private prospect workouts and in-person interviews with potential draft picks at team headquarters? All gone by the wayside this year in the name of virus mitigation.
The NFL Draft itself will also transpire in dramatically different fashion than originally planned. Ironically, this year’s edition was set to also serve as Las Vegas’ official welcome-to-the-league bash. Adjacent city Paradise was to be the setting for nearly a week’s worth of events, including the three-day draft itself.
That plan is also now history. What exactly will take its place is unclear for the time being. At one point, the league was set to reopen the team facilities it had previously ordered closed for each team to gather its relevant staff over the course of the three days of the player selection process.
That plan has now been scrapped due to precautionary reasons. Instead, there’s now a chance that officials make player selections from a virtual setting such as their own homes or a large-enough meeting place with enough available space for all necessary social distancing measures to be carried out.
Then, what unfolds following the draft is also uncharted territory for the foreseeable future.
One certainty is that the start of OTAs and any rookie minicamps which would normally unfold shortly after the draft will be delayed at best, canceled outright altogether at worst. The NFL does continue to hold firm in its plans to start training camps on time in late July, followed by a normal preseason and then an on-time Week 1 of the regular season just before mid-September.
Because of the time window involved before the start of the uninterrupted on-field portion of its annual calendar begins, the NFL is the only major U.S. sports league with the latitude to still express hope for a “normal” 2020 season.
While current modeling does paint a much more optimistic COVID-19 picture by fall, there are still plenty of unknowns. That includes the possibility of a virus resurgence, albeit on a likely smaller scale, once cooler weather arrives.
|Minicamps||Carried out as scheduled at team facilities with extra precautions.|
|Training Camps||Begin on time in late July at team facilities.|
|Preaseason||Played as scheduled with fans in attendance.|
|Regular Season||Played as scheduled with fans in attendance.|
|Postseason||Played on time and in intended locations with fans in attendance.|
Current status: Attempting to work on a modified calendar the rest of the year.
A host of the world’s leading amateur and professional golf entities – including the PGA Tour and the USGA — provided some rare granular detail on their reshuffled calendar over the next few months.
Some of the highlights:
- USGA: Rescheduled U.S. Open from June 15-21 to September 14-20.
- The R & A: Cancelled this year’s edition of The Open outright, with the 2021 tournament slated for July 12-19 at Royal St. George’s.
- PGA of America: Rescheduled the PGA Championship from May 11-17 to August 3-9. TPC Harding Park in San Francisco remains the location.
- Augusta National Golf Club: Rescheduled the 2020 Masters Tournament from April 6-12 to November 9-15.
- PGA Tour: Moved the Wyndham Championship and all three FedExCup Playoffs events by a week. They will now run from August 10 to September 7.
- European Tour: Will have forthcoming announcements regarding the rescheduling of its 2020 events.
- LPGA: Plans to begin its 2020 schedule June 15 with the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. It’s also slated its first two majors of the year, the ANA Inspiration and U.S. Women’s Open, to September 7 and December 7, respectively.
|British Open||Already canceled.|
|PGA Championship||Takes place Aug. 6-9 with public present.|
|FedEx Cup||Take place from Aug. 10 through Sept. 7.|
|US Open||Takes place Sept. 17-20 with public present.|
|Masters||Takes place Nov. 12-15 with public present.|
Horse Racing Triple Crown
Current status: All three events at various stages of rescheduling.
The first Triple Crown domino to fall was the signature Kentucky Derby, which was rescheduled from May 2 to September 5 back on March 17.
The second jewel, the Preakness Stakes, has now followed suit. Originally scheduled for May 16, the race will be rescheduled for a yet-to-be-announced date after guidance from local and governmental health authorities.
The third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, is slated for June 6. However, that event will also be held at a later date. If all three races are held with normal amount of time intervals between each, the Preakness would take place September 19 and the Belmont would follow October 10.
|Kentucky Derby||Takes place Sept. 5|
|Preakness Stakes||Takes place Sept. 19|
|Belmont Stakes||Takes place Oct. 10|
Current status: Looking to reschedule postponed events. Play is currently suspended until July 13.
The ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and WTP (Women’s Tennis Association) recently informed the Associated Press they are in coordination on a reshuffling of the rest of the 2020 professional tennis calendar. Possibilities include extending events beyond November through rescheduled tournaments.
Wimbledon, originally scheduled to take place from June 29-July 12, was already canceled for the first time since 1945 due to COVID-19.
|French Open||Play rescheduled dates of Sept. 20 through Oct. 4.|
|US Open||Play as scheduled from Aug. 24 through Sept. 13.|
Current status: Planning to hold all 36 points-paying events and All-Star Race.
In a March 17 conference call, NASCAR President Steve Phelps stated the sanctioning body’s intention to still conduct a full slate of races in 2020 and mentioned many rescheduling options are being considered. That includes doubleheader Cup weekends or midweek events.
Phelps also designated the scheduled May 8-9 race at Martinsville in Virginia as the target date for the return of live racing That, of course, is subject to change.
In the interim, eNASCAR races have become a hit. The March 29 Pro Series Invitational, simulcast on Fox Sports and FS1, attracted 1.33 million viewers. Betting on eNASCAR is now legal in Nevada and New Jersey.
Sports tsunami could hit the fall
Thus, while the spring sports calendar has been effectively enveloped in a shroud of darkness, the fall and early winter has the potential to be incandescently bright.
If at least a majority of the above plans eventually come to fruition, we’ll arguably have the busiest sports calendar in modern history over the last 5-6 months of 2020. The proverbial ball could begin its slow downhill roll in mid-summer and hit a crescendo smack in the middle of the holiday season.
The NBA and NHL championships may well be decided in August, for example. Meanwhile, MLB could be in full swing, the NFL will be playing out its preseason slate and the PGA Championship will also take place in the early part of the month.
September could see the Kentucky Derby serve as one heck of a warmup for sportsbooks and bettors days before Week 1 of the NFL season. The Preakness could follow just two weeks after the Derby. MLB, the FedEx Cup and the U.S. Open are also slated to be along for the late-summer/early-fall ride.
October will potentially house the most critical part of the MLB regular season, the NFL’s second month and the beginning of the NBA preseason ahead of its 2020-21 campaign. Horse racing could also be capping off its delayed Triple Crown with the Belmont Stakes on the 10th.
But the apex of the insanity/ecstasy for sports fans and bettors could well come in November.
At that point, there’s a fighting chance the MLB, NBA and NFL are all in session. Baseball’s playoffs and World Series will take place alongside the onset of football’s stretch run and annual Thanksgiving extravaganza. And, oh by the way, The Masters will likely unfold over six days in the first half of the month.
Additionally, consider NASCAR and professional tennis are also expected to be weaving their reshuffled calendars throughout the second half of 2020, adding to the smorgasbord.
For sports enthusiasts and bettors fortunate enough to only be fighting off boredom during this time, patience could well be rewarded with an unforgettable finish to a year quite like no other.
Check back to this article for updates over the next few months.