As the world scrambles to find solutions to the health and economic crises arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, major sports leagues in America have responded in varying ways. It is unimaginable to turn on the television or get on the internet without any major sports taking place. Sports has always been a unifying force in American culture as fans root for individuals and teams regardless of any racial, ethnic, or gender differences. In the midst of this pandemic, while a debate ensues on when to resume the economy, what about the return of major professional sports? As some organizations have cancelled major sporting events, others are desperately trying to salvage their sport by postponing tournaments and seasons as long as they possibly can. I believe that as long as it is safe and healthy, this is the time for sports to be flexible and creative in its form and structure in order to bring back America’s favorite pastime.
NBA: Each team in the NBA only had 13-16 games remaining in the regular season at the time when the season was indefinitely suspended on March 11. While the league has indicated that no decisions on the remaining season would be made until May at the earliest, most sports analysts agree that even if the NBA were able to resume in June, players who have been sequestered at home without access to basketball courts would require time to train resulting in actual games not being played until potentially July. Since the league has for now established Labor Day as the deadline for the season to finish, I implore the NBA, its owners and players to remain flexible and consider resuming its season with a shortened playoff schedule at a neutral site if necessary.
MLB: Having canceled the remainder of its spring training baseball games on March 12, the MLB a few days later announced that the start of the season would be pushed back to at least the middle of May. The MLB is currently entertaining all proposals including splitting all thirty teams evenly between Arizona and Florida depending on where their spring training facilities are located, breaking them into new divisions rather than the traditional American and National League alignments, and then playing games without fans in attendance. A full regular season is unlikely especially if the season cannot be extended beyond October. Therefore, I believe the season can and should be shortened, especially in light of how many games are played in a typical season. Each team in the MLB plays almost twice the number of games than each team in the NBA (162 versus 82) over a similar period of time. The number of baseball games can be reduced, and games could even be shortened from nine innings to, for example, seven innings.
NFL: The NFL is one of the only major sports leagues to have not outwardly postponed or cancelled its season given its regular season starts on September 10. However, there are now questions surfacing as to whether or not the season should start on time. The NFL has already adjusted several offseason events with teams being forced to close their facilities and suspend organized team activities. While the 2020 NFL draft is set to continue on April 23, it will take place in a virtual format. Although adjustments would be required, offseason programs can continue such as virtual workouts and classrooms so players can train and get in shape for the regular season. With the benefit of a much shorter regular season compared to other major sports with only 16 games played over a 17-week period, the NFL should remain focused on playing a normal traditional season and then alter the season if necessary.
Tennis: In both men’s and women’s professional tennis, there are three remaining Grand Slams this year, but unfortunately each event has made independent decisions without much coordination. Wimbledon, which is normally played over two weeks in late June to early July, was cancelled for the first time since World War II. It is disappointing for tennis fans that Wimbledon could not be salvaged. Who can forget last year’s five-hour epic Wimbledon finals match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the longest singles final match in Wimbledon history? Although both the French Open and the US Open have not been cancelled, the French Open has been rescheduled to September 20, a date that is only six days after the end of the US Open. The organizers of the French Open and US Open should have done a better job in coordinating their schedules for the benefit of players and fans.
Golf: Similar to tennis, in the world of professional golf, the majors are considered the most important tournaments. On the men’s side, the British Open, originally scheduled for mid-July, is the only major to be cancelled, marking the first time the British Open will not have been played since 1945 when it was cancelled due to World War II. Each of the remaining three majors (PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Masters), which are hosted in the United States, have been rescheduled to later in the year. Although the Masters will be played outside of April with a rescheduled date in November for the first time since 1934, at least there remains the continued hope for a Masters. Can you imagine not being able to watch Tiger Woods defend his Masters title?
While each major sport has been impacted in different ways based on the timeline of their regular season, all sports are facing historic challenges in deciding whether to cancel or postpone games, tournaments, and entire seasons. In the past, we have experienced the loss of certain sports seasons due to player strikes or league lockouts as a result of labor disputes, but this COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the entire sporting world. It goes without saying that the health and safety of all parties involved is the first priority, but I also believe these constituents need to pursue all angles with creativity and flexibility to bring sports back. While this health crisis brings so much uncertainty in our lives, I for one am looking forward to the day when sports can once again be the unifying and healing power in America.