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Big League Sports to Return? Ask the Virus

June 25th, 2020 · No Comments · Baseball, Basketball, coronavirus, Football, NBA, NFL, Sports Journalism

Baseball is on the way back, we were told this week. “Spring” training camps will open on July 1, a 60-game mini-regular-season will begin play on or about July 24, and the World Series will finish no later than October 28.

The NBA’s plan for a return-to-play “bubble” in Orlando was made public on June 4, and it will include 22 teams, with 16 of them getting into the playoffs and the latest possible date for a Finals Game 7 on October 12.

With one massive question to be answered:

Will the Covid-19 pandemic allow these plans to be completed?

Novak Djokovic, the world’s top-ranked tennis players, had an interesting idea, this month. Invite a bunch of players from countries mostly in the Balkans, showcase the game to people in that region who rarely get a chance to see it, and give the players a payday.

Started well, ended badly, yesterday, when Djokovic revealed he and his wife tested positive for the virus, and the barnstorming tournament has been shut down — but not before at least three other pros, including Gregor Dimitrov, turned in positive tests.


Andy Roddick, an American and a former world tennis No. 1, with tongue in cheek at Djokovic’s chutzpah, wrote on social media, “Apparently there is a pandemic going on.”

And it will be the pandemic that decides, whatever level of human intervention is planned, if the NBA and MLB actually get under way … and manage to finish their truncated seasons.

The coronavirus is kind of like God in the old quip: “If you want to make God (or the virus) smile,” tell him your plans.”

To give you an indication of how fatalistic many of us have gotten about this … those who attempt to head off trouble, anyway … when the word came down two weeks ago that baseball would play, this is how our 30-year-old fantasy league reacted.

Crickets. Nada. Not a word, not an email. Not to me, anyway. Still got lots of time for things to go bad before we worry about rosters.

For each sport, there is a line out there that, if crossed, due to more massive breakouts, would end the optimistic notions in baseball and basketball. How many stars need to be hospitalized before a towel is thrown in?

Let’s take a moment to consider two other major team sports — the National Football League and the National Hockey League.

The NFL is going about its business as if nothing much is happening, with training camps scheduled to open on July 28 and the regular season following on September 10.

The annual Hall of Fame game was cancelled yesterday, and that may just be the start of a shriveled season.

This is the league whose game was described by pandemic expert Anthony Fauci as an almost “perfect” vector for the virus, given its collisions and contact between players.

Said Fauci to CNN: “Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

And then there is hockey, which seems in a state of chaos. The season began back in October, was halted in March like everyone else, and the league soon after announced that teams not in the 16-team playoffs positions are finished — without explaining how the Stanley Cup would work.

Still waiting.

The NHL is talking about training camps opening on July 10, but nothing has been decided about the Stanley Cup playoffs — like, where will games be played? Would the hockey guys take a whack at a bubble, too? Or maybe two or three or four bubbles, with Las Vegas likely being one of them?

The NHL’s situation is complicated by its straddle of the U.S.-Canada border: At the moment, Canada does not want Americans crossing onto its territory, given that no country in the world has had as many Covid deaths and positive tests as has the U.S.

So, maybe we get a miracle, and the virus — which is surging again, in the U.S. — backs off long enough for baseball to tear through its mini season, and the NBA goes into the bubble in Orlando and things look semi-normal.

The NHL and NFL … serious trouble lurks.

Teams and owners and leagues can plan all they want. But if there is not a reduction in cases, if there is no sense that the virus is kinda/sorta under control … all this sturm und drang may be for naught, across the North American sports continent.


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