By Bobby Curran
With the attempts to bring back professional sports, each of them had logistical problems, issues with their constituencies, and labor issues. By now, we have an inkling of what worked and what didn’t. These were uncharted waters and while many ideas were considered, each of the leagues went through many permutations before arriving at a plan. Let’s look at the successes first.
The NBA and the NHL had similar situations in that their regular seasons were almost complete, they had relatively small numbers of players, coaches, and staff, and in both leagues players and management had a a strong desire to crown a champion. They each settled on a bubble format, which essentially isolated their active participants from the society. They quickly realized that they couldn’t have fans, and that the format would be made for television. They also evolved protocols for any departures from the bubble, stipulating that if players tested daily while away, they could then have a short quarantine and be back ready to play. There were extended negotiations over amenities and practice regimes, but after a brief period the luxury resorts were deemed acceptable and play resumed. For both the NBA and NHL there was some rust but play eventually looked a lot like the regular season.players were generally compliant with guidelines and there were few infections.
For the PGA, they saw immediately that there was demand after a couple celebrity events were a ratings bonanza, and while there was contentiousness over whether they could have fans, most realized that fans were a potential nightmare in the pandemic, and these events were now also made for television spectacles. After a couple of caddies and players had failed tests early on, participants began to follow guidelines more rigorously and there have been no recent incidents. So golf, basketball, and hockey manage quite well (so far).
MLB had very different circumstances and a much tougher go of it. First, their season had yet to stare, players did not want a four to five month bubble, and negotiations over money quickly became fractious. And since they finally settled on a 60game season with Home and road games the traveling parties were out in different cities and players began to test positive, leading to cancelled gams and quarantines. Even now, many observers think its a long shot that they get through the season.
Which brings us the biggest and richest of the pro sports.
The NFL is scheduled to start in 3 weeks. The league has one huge advantage: almost unlimited resources. Near daily testing is not prohibitive to the league. With billions of dollars at stake, it’s hard to imagine that the NFL season won’t take place. This despite the fact that the game is played by men in close, sweaty contact for 3.5 hours at a stretch. What will Roger Goodell and his cohorts do if there is a large outbreak? Cancel games? Postpone them? Will they play the whole season without fans? Right now, it’s hard to envision fans in stadiums, but the biggest piece for the league is the television deal. It may be awkward at times, and difficult much of the time, but buckle up. The rocky fall and winter are nearly upon us!