The Race To Resume

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami, Florida – Right now there’s a race to resume within the sports world in America. The question on everyone’s mind is who is going to restart first? There’s been a lot of activity lately as the various leagues try to resume play. Each one is handling the situation differently with all of them in varying stages of progress. Let’s take a look where they’re at now.


How deep into the season were they?

It was nearly over, there was less than a month left on the schedule when the postponement was announced.

Where do they stand now?

Both the league and players union approved a 24-team, conference based “return to play” playoff format. It’s a guideline in the event of the resumption of professional hockey. They’re essentially abandoning the rest of the season and jumping straight to the playoffs. For several teams, their run is already over.  The proposal passed 29-2 with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes voting against. In addition to the playoff format, the agreement addressed the NHL draft, the draft lottery, and the health and safety aspects of resuming play.

The games are to be held inside empty arenas at two hub cities. Players, staff, and other personnel are likely to be holed up in hotels during the restart. Originally, the NHL was seeking four different sites, but logistics and the playoff format reduced it to two.

Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver are the cities being considered. The hubs need to be secure, complete with hotels and practice facilities. There would be aggressive COVID-19 testing and other protocols at each site.

However, the Canadian government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine procedure could force the NHL to pick two locales stateside.

Playoffs and Phases

The top four teams in each conference ranked by points will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding in the first round. The remaining 16 teams, seeded by conference, will play a best-of-five play-in series. These will determine who advances to a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket.

This is all part of a 4 phase plan to re-open the league. Phase 2 involves getting the players back into training facilities, albeit in small groups with testing and quarantine protocols already in place. The current phase requires a 14-day self-quarantine period before a player can participate if he travels via public transportation.

Phase 3 of the plan is the opening of training camps by mid-July. Phase 4 is the completion of the season in the two hub cities. The league said that all series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, except for the qualifying round, will be a best-of-seven format, with matchups in each round determined by seeding. Round-robin ties will be decided by regular-season points percentage.

The process to determine safety protocols is the reason the players approved a return to play format but have yet to approve an actual return to the ice this summer. Issues concerning their families remain a top priority. A big question remains: Will players be allowed to bring family members with them?


How deep into the season were they?

Pretty deep. There are 82 games in a season and teams had completed a range of 63-67 games before the pause.

Where do they stand now?

The NBA Board of Governors approved a competitive format to restart the 2019-20 season with 22 teams returning to play and a tentative start date of July 31.  The Board’s approval is the first formal step required to resume the season. It hinges on being able to play at a single site in Orlando: the Walt Disney World Resort. All games, practices, and housing will be here for the remainder of the season.

The 22 returning teams are the 16 squads (eight per conference) in their present playoff positions and the six teams that are currently six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences. These teams are essentially playing eight more regular-season games (seeding games) before jumping into the playoffs. This includes the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth and final playoff seed in each conference, depending on combined records across the regular-season and seeding games. 

If the team with the eighth-best record is more than four games ahead of the team in ninth, the former advances. Now if its four games or fewer, these two teams compete in a play-in series to determine the final seed. To advance, the team with the better record needs to win just once. The other team has to win twice in a row.

Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the NBA Playoffs would proceed in a traditional conference-based format, all rounds will be a best-of-seven series.  The NBA Finals would end no later than October 12.

The plan also includes tentative dates for both the NBA Draft Lottery (August 25) and NBA Draft (October 15). The 2020-2021 regular season could kick off December 1, however, Reports show the players will reject this date due to being too close to the end of this season.

Just The First Step

The proposal was approved 29-1 with the Portland Trailblazers the only team voting against.

Despite this agreement, safety questions remain as the league seeks to reopen in one of the country’s COVID-19 hotspots. Discussions are underway on how teams will be able to utilize players on two-way contracts. If COVID-19 or serious injury strikes the teams, there are expected to be no limitations on the number of players signed as replacements.

However, there would be restrictions on those in the eligibility pool. The question that remains unanswered is the dreaded what happens if nine players get sick?

Another major concern on the part of players is whether or not families will come with them. The current plan will allow for approximately 1,600 people at a time, so as teams leave due to elimination, families will be able to replace them. Neither players nor families will be allowed to leave the premises during their stay. Teams are expected to be limited to a 35-person traveling party.

The league ruled out inviting all 30 teams for both competitive and financial reasons. The NBA spent much of May looking for a compromise ranging from 20 to 24 teams after deciding that going straight into a 16 team playoff was not only unfair but damaging to the overall quality of play. The guys haven’t played for a while, after all. With all these games, it will help satisfy the local television contracts of several teams, lessening some of the revenue losses.

The NBA will look to conduct nightly coronavirus testing in Orlando. According to reports, there will not be blood testing for banned substances at the location.


How deep into the season were they?

They barely started with each team playing just two matches.

Where do they stand now?

Instead of resuming the season, they will bring back all 26 MLS teams to play in Orlando at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to compete in a World Cup-style tournament on July 8.

MLS will take roughly 1,200-1,500 people consisting of players, coaches, support staff, and league personnel. Traveling parties will be about 45 per team from late-June to early-August if the situation permits. They’ll be holed up (mostly) in the Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in addition to the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee. The format will be three group games followed by a 16-team knockout round. The final standings from the event would be applied to the regular season with the hope that teams get to return to play in their home markets around late-August. The winner of the tournament will also secure a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.


Similar to other plans, both clubs and other league officials will be sequestered with strict guidelines and regular testing. Considering there are 18 resort-style hotels in the area, it will not be difficult to keep these players away from the public. Leaving the hotel for anything other than team or league business is prohibited as long as that player’s team is in the tournament. On game days the people involved will be divided into three tiers based on the level of testing they’ve undergone.

Tier 1 includes players, coaches, club officials, referees, and medical staff. Tier 2 will include pool photographers, broadcasters, league staff, VAR staff, communications, and stretcher crew. The last tier will be media, non-rights holder TV crews, other photographers, and the digital staff of the respective clubs. Those in Tier 3 will not be subject to COVID-19 testing. MLS is currently considering having some media inside the bubble, requiring them to undergo tests.

Everyone deemed “essential members” within a team’s delegation will be tested before and after arriving in Orlando. Players, coaches, and support staff will be then tested every other day for the first two weeks. Families will not be allowed tag along, nor visit. The complex has 17 lighted soccer fields, making it the ideal spot for MLS to resume operations. Since the league-wide training moratorium was lifted on June 4th, full team practices have already begun.


How deep into the season were they?

The postponement happened late in Spring Training and Opening Day never occurred.

Where do they stand now?

For some time now professional baseball has been trying to get back on track like all the others. However, because of the pandemic and financial disputes between the league and its players, they are no closer to restarting. One of the early ideas was to have all the teams assemble in Arizona and attempt to play all 162 games via doubleheaders. Florida was another venue but it all came down to logistics and cost. The old NL-AL alignment would’ve been done away with for this season.

The Back and Forth

However, the venue is not the primary problem: Money is. Specifically, regarding player salaries as both sides try to find common ground. Thus far, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. The first proposal was offering a specific proportion of prorated salaries over an 82-game season, adding $200 million in potential playoff revenue for a total of $1.23 billion. The players union countered with a 114-game season at full pro-rata which includes $2.87 billion in compensation and allowed the league to expand the playoff field from 10 to 14 teams for the next two seasons.

The league turned down that offer and issued another proposal, this time a 76-game season, covering up to 75% of players’ prorated salaries for about $1.432 billion in total compensation. Their latest offer says the playoffs could have up to 16 teams and individuals at high risk of contracting the coronavirus could opt out of the 2020 season, retaining both their salaries and service time. The MLBPA has already stated the players will reject any further reductions in their salaries.

As of Tuesday, the players association has responded with an 89-game season with a full prorated share of salary among other things. If a deal cannot be reached, the league has the ability to implement a schedule of its desired length. The aim there is a potential 48-game season.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, the players are getting less guaranteed money and won’t be making that much more than an existing proposal centered around fewer games. Another sticking point is the playoff caveat. If the postseason is canceled, the players would only get 50% of their prorated salary. That’s a steep drop.

Some Thoughts

Judging by the look of things, the NBA is the furthest along and the most likely to return. With that said, the leagues have emphasized there are kinks to be worked out and finalized before resuming. The lynchpin to these plans revolves around testing and also family arrangements. There was a time when baseball had a shot to be the first league to restart its operations. Now there’s an appearance of both sides bickering over money. As others march ahead the pressure will continue to grow for MLB to find a compromise since they don’t want to be the very last ones to return or worse, be at an impasse with everyone else playing. 

In the art of negotiations, there’s give and take. At the moment it seems the league is doing more of the latter, presenting the same proposal with regards to salaries in different forms. The players already took a pay cut and are being asked for another. On top of that, there’s less guaranteed money making it a less appealing deal. Expect both sides to look towards an agreement the closer we get to July. The more days that go by, the fewer games to be played. Time is money.

One thing is for certain, for all these dates and guesses everyone is acutely aware COVID-19 makes the timetable. Some feel with fears of a second wave later in the year that the time to play is now. The clock is certainly ticking.

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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