Now that the will-they/won’t-they/when-will-they dance with the Olympics is finally over, there’s really nothing left to cancel.
Sure, news of the various sports leagues extending their “pauses” will continue to trickle in for as long as this nightmare lasts, but the Olympics being postponed was the last bombshell we’ll see for probably a while. The next big coronavirus-related sports story will be when one of the leagues says it’s coming back — or surrenders what’s left of its regular season and/or playoffs.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at the current state of some of the leagues people care about most here in North America.
Shut down since: March 12
Where things stand: So far, only two NHL players have tested positive for COVID-19 — both from the Ottawa Senators. It’s been about a week and a half since the league advised all its players to self-isolate until March 27, and that it would be at least 45 days before it could even offer guidance on the potential re-opening of team practices. That timeline was pushed back even further yesterday when the NHL asked its players and staff to extend their self-isolation by another 10 days, to April 6. Meanwhile, the league has been holding conference calls with owners and GMs to keep them updated, but no one seems to have any idea when (or if) the season will resume. A discouraging signal came from overseas earlier today when the Russia-based KHL announced it’s abandoning the remainder of its Gagarin Cup playoffs. Another came later when the NHL postponed its draft and its awards show. Those were scheduled for, respectively, mid- and late June.
What’s next: The NHL reportedly remains hopeful that it will be able to return in time to stage some kind of competition for the Stanley Cup, whether that’s a full playoff tournament or a modified version. The league is reportedly willing to go as deep as late summer or even early fall to accomplish this, though it also remains committed to not shortening the 2020-21 season. Also, remember that the NHL — and probably every other league on pause — will likely need to hold some sort of abbreviated training camp for players to warm up before games resume. Read more about the latest on the NHL here.
Shut down since: March 11
Where things stand: About a dozen NBA players have tested positive for COVID-19. Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis just before the tipoff of a game on March 11 triggered a rapid-fire string of cancellations across sports, and former MVP Kevin Durant is also among those who have revealed they tested positive. Today, two-time all-star Karl-Anthony Towns said that his mother is in a coma and that he thinks she has COVID-19. As for when the NBA might return, it’s basically in the same boat as the NHL, with which it shares a lot of arenas. The number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to soar, with no relief in sight — no matter what the President says on TV every day. Donald Trump can boast about opening the country back up all he wants, but if state and local authorities continue to mandate lockdowns, sporting events won’t be possible. If and when the NBA does eventually return — and you can throw the NHL into this too — the first step seems likely to be playing in empty arenas. If normal games aren’t possible, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has floated the idea of a one-off game or tournament in a single location, provided all the players’ health can be certified.
What’s next: Seeing as how basketball is really a summer sport, NBA games in July or August seem more appealing — and less out-of-place — than NHL ones. And, with each passing day, that looks more and more like a best-case scenario. For a rough idea of what the future may hold, look at the Chinese Basketball Association, which just pushed its re-start date back to May. The league shut down in January, which is when the coronavirus outbreak hit China hard. So May would make four months. Every country is managing the outbreak differently (and with varying degrees of success) but would anyone say at this moment that the U.S. is doing a better job than China did? Based on that, four months would seem like a best-case scenario for the NBA layoff to end. That’s mid-July. Today, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he’d bet on games happening in empty arenas before June 1, and maybe as early as mid-May, but that might just be wishful thinking from a guy with a lot of skin in the game.
Major League Baseball
Shut down since: March 12
Where things stand: Not to be a downer, but tomorrow was supposed to be Opening Day. Sports fans were robbed of that annual rite of spring back on March 16 when, four days after abruptly halting spring training, MLB pushed back the start of the season until at least mid-May. That’s doubtful, though. It seems like MLB simply arrived at that figure based on the CDC’s March 15 recommendation that no gatherings of 50 or more people be held in the U.S. for at least eight weeks.
What’s next: A full 162-game season will be very tough to pull off. Unlike the NHL and NBA, which play indoors, baseball has to worry about the onset of cold weather. And the playoffs bump up against it as it is with Game 7 of this year’s World Series scheduled for Oct. 28. The best-case scenario at this point looks like an abbreviated regular season followed by a full playoffs. Unless… baseball gets really creative. To that end, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins tossed up the idea today of scheduling a bunch of seven-inning doubleheaders so that teams can play nine games a week. That would allow for a full 162-game regular season if it starts in July and runs through October. Might want to check how the players feel about that, though.
Shut down since: N/A
Where things stand: The world’s richest sports league is also the luckiest. The North American leg of the coronavirus outbreak has fallen squarely in the NFL’s off-season. That’s not to say the league has remained untouched. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton contracted the virus (though he appears to be fine) and social-distancing regulations have made it very difficult (if not impossible in many cases) for teams to either run physicals on or work out players they’re thinking of signing or trading for. But the free-agency window still opened last week without much of a hitch, allowing the NFL to own the sports-news cycle almost entirely at a time when sports fans are starved for fresh content.
What’s next: Though it’s been pretty smooth sailing so far, the NFL is starting to hit some chop. Normally, teams begin gathering for occasional off-season workouts (called Organized Team Activities, or OTAs for short) around mid-April. But, starting tonight, the NFL is ordering its teams to close their facilities to all personnel until at least April 8. Meanwhile, teams are starting to push back on the league’s plan to go ahead with its draft April 23-25. Plans to make it a big spectacle in Las Vegas were scrapped a while ago, but the draft will still be a hugely popular TV event, so the NFL wants to go on with some kind of show in which teams send in their picks from remote locations. But there’s grumbling now from team officials that it’s impossible for them to properly evaluate players in the current environment. Some are also starting to worry about training camps in July and even the regular-season kickoff on Sept. 10. Still, if anyone has a chance to emerge from the pandemic in relatively fine shape, it’s the NFL.
Shut down since: N/A
Where things stand: Like its big brother to the south, the CFL has remained relatively sheltered from the devastation of the pandemic simply due to the good fortune of having this all happen during its off-season. The league’s “global” draft on April 16 is postponed, but as of right now the standard draft, training camps and the regular season are still officially scheduled to open on time.
What’s next: Problem is, that schedule is likely about to collapse in a hurry. The CFL is in a much dicier situation than the NFL because its season kicks off three months sooner. The first thing in jeopardy is the April 30 draft, then the May 17 opening of full training camps, then the first pre-season game on May 24, then the start of the regular season on June 11. It looks increasingly unlikely that any of that will be able to hold up. New CFLPA president Solomon Elimimian has already sent a letter to his fellow players warning them to prepare for the worst, and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said last week that the league and the union are discussing contingency plans. Read more about the latest on the CFL here.
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