The sporting world came to almost a total halt last week, as multiple leagues began cancelling, postponing or suspending seasons, tournaments and events. Suddenly a machine that includes numerous networks, various broadcast and cable outlets, print media publications and websites, found itself with virtually nothing to cover other than announcements of who was shutting down what next, and speculative analysis and stories about when competition might resume.
One thing that’s always been taken for granted except in times of lockouts and strikes was there would be SOME kind of competition happening somewhere. But the coronavirus and COVID-19 has proven a globally unifying force in its ability to reach across nations and affect all sports. Whether it was team sports like pro and college basketball, pro and college hockey, Major league and college baseball, global soccer and auto racing, or spring events and winter sports tournaments, one after another were all cancelled, delayed, or suspended.
It was one time when United States leagues opted to be proactive rather than reactive. They simply didn’t want to face in America the specter of what has happened in Asia and Europe, even if the initial numbers regarding the number of people who’d either gotten the disease or died weren’t anywhere as high. The lack of available kits for testing, and the concern over possible infections created by large public gatherings led all these leagues to take immediate action.
Some good things have resulted from these unprecedented decisions. For one, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban stepped forward and announced he would continue to pay arena workers despite the lack of games. Then various players led by the New Orleans Pelicans Zion Williamson and Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love also began pledging funds and starting campaigns to do the same. Suddenly there were no longer lots of mock debates being staged on-air at the various sports networks. Instead they were putting the spotlight on aid efforts, and people banding together trying to do something to help curb COVID-19’s spread.
But the leagues are also now preparing contingency plans and considering alternatives to what’s happened regarding their schedules. Reports surfaced this week that the NBA is hoping to resume regular season play by June, and will possibly extend the playoffs into August.
The NHL had not yet released any specifics regarding its season, but Commissioner Gary Bettman issued a statement saying they hoped to be able to complete the season and also hold the playoffs, ultimately resulting in having a Stanley Cup winner. The PGA cancelled the Masters in April and all subsequent tournaments leading up to it, but didn’t say what plans they had for the remainder of the tour. Both the men’s and women’s tennis tours went on a six-week hiatus.
Late May or early June now seems the most likely target date to see the return of the NBA and NHL, as well as the start of the 2020 MLB season. The other logistics like the length of regular seasons, whether early playoff rounds will be shortened, and how much salary caps will be affected, still must be worked out in the weeks ahead.
Plus something no one wants to consider is what happens if things haven’t gotten better as anticipated by mid-to-late May? Then the prospects of entire seasons being wiped out becomes much more of a possibility. Hopefully, that will not prove the case.