when will professional sports return to America?
Major league sports are a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States and are streamed daily throughout the country. On March 11, the NBA shocked sports fans across the country when they indefinitely suspended the season amid growing concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after the NBA announced the news, the NCAA followed suit and canceled the remainder of the season for winter sports and then postponing, before eventually canceling the spring sports season. The NHL also postponed the remainder of its season and spring training for the MLB was halted. While the NFL was not currently in season, on March 23 all training facilities were closed until at least mid April, a date which was later extended, with the opening day yet to be announced.
The professional basketball season would typically be in the conference finals right now, one round away from the championship series in the playoffs, but instead fans have been left hoping that the season will return. Beginning on May 8, players were allowed back into team facilities but they were still required to have limited contact with others. There is still no guarantee that the season will return, but according to ESPN, if the season were to return fans would not be able to attend the games until there is a vaccine available. As of right now the earliest possible start date would be the end of June.
Many questions are still up in the air considering there are still over 200 regular season games that have not been played, but the league has been clear that they hope to salvage the remainder of the season. The NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, has stated that he believes the whole season can be played out but it would likely push back the beginning of the following season to late December compared to the usual start in the beginning of October.
The league is believed to be leaning towards hosting the remainder of the season in just two locations, Las Vegas and Orlando, to try and prevent as much travel as possible. Silver also stated in an interview with Bleacher Report that daily testing would be necessary in order to know if any player or other staff member contracts the coronavirus. Like most other things that have been closed due to quarantine, all future plans about the season depend on where the country is in its progress with the virus.
Similar to the NBA, the National Hockey League was close to finishing its regular season when everything was originally postponed. As of May 1, NHL facilities are scheduled to begin opening May 15 to allow players to prepare for the rest of the season. It seems more likely than not that if the season were to return, the remaining regular season games would be played between four locations without fans in attendance.
The league announced that each team would be given a three week training camp before the season resumes to get back in shape. It was also announced that there would be no chance of the season continuing if the team did not have the availability to frequently test all players for COVID-19. While little else has been announced by the NHL, it did state that no games would be played with fans in attendance for safety precautions. The league also got approval to move back the start date for the 2020-21 season if necessary.
The season for the sport that was once considered America’s pastime did not even get to begin it’s 2020 season as spring training was canceled less than a month away from opening day. While it still isn’t clear if the full 162 game season will occur, league officials have appeared hopeful that there will be a MLB season in some aspect this year. An early plan for the season had all teams play out of Arizona, which would mean the players would be quarantined there without access to their families. This plan obviously did not go over well with many players and was later revised.
On May 11, CBS Sports released an article detailing the new proposed plan for an 82 game season that would play the regular season games at a few select locations. A major upside of the plan would be that the league would allow for postseason games to be played at teams’ home fields, and the post-season would be expanded to include 14 teams rather than 10. It is unclear whether or not fans would be allowed, but presumably until there is a vaccine or a drastic reduction of COVID cases, the games would be played without fans in attendance. Just like the other professional sports, league officials have been very clear that the season will not start until the coronavirus test becomes easily accessible.
As of right now no official changes have been made to the upcoming NFL season. Schedules were released in the first week of May and all teams are set to begin in September like usual. Ticket sales for the upcoming season also opened so as of right now, the league is not planning to play any games without fans, however, some teams are only selling a certain number of tickets to prevent the stadiums from being at full capacity.
According to an interview for The New York Times, The Commissioner Roger Godell said that nothing for the upcoming season is certain and problems will be handled as they arise.
The biggest issue right now for the league is deciding how to have team training facilities open safely by mid-July so that training camp can begin on time. It is also evident that there would need to be enough tests to frequently test players, and currently in the United States there just aren’t enough tests available for that to happen.
While as of now nothing can be said for certain, all of the professional sports leagues in America are doing as much as possible to play their respective seasons while also keeping players, staff, and fans safe. The uncertainty of the future can be rough for die hard sports fans but sports will return, even if it isn’t for the remainder of 2020.