It’s time to pull the plug on the 2020 sports season

Why a fresh start in the fall is best for everyone

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the status of the NBA and NHL’s postseasons in jeopardy, and both league offices have been pursuing alternative options for crowning a league champion

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The COVID-19 pandemic has put the status of the NBA and NHL’s postseasons in jeopardy, and both league offices have been pursuing alternative options for crowning a league champion

Ever since the COVID-19 virus forced millions of Americans into hibernation for the spring, there has been a national pause on public gatherings not seen since the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.

And just like the millions shaken by the events of that tragic day in 2001, many of today’s Americans have looked to sports as an escape from the chaos surrounding them, but even that once-reliable outlet has been compromised by the devastating effects of the pandemic.

In the four weeks since the mass cancellation of sporting events, the American sports leagues’ revenue streams have run completely dry, forcing many team owners to cut the salaries of the still-quarantined players, coaches, and other team employees; and according to a Forbes projection, the league suspensions persisting deep into the summer could end up costing the major American sports franchises (the NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, NCAA, etc) as much as $10 billion.

The leagues’ financial woes combined with the fans’ desire for a distraction from the pandemic has prompted many league officials to explore potential options for a return to action, and a few proposals have managed to gain traction in the past few weeks.

It pains me to say it as a life-long sports fan, but reviving what has become a dead season would be a colossal error for many reasons, the most glaring of which being the logistical issues that the leagues would encounter in trying to resume their seasons before the fall”

The MLB and the MLBPA have discussed the possibility of playing the first part of the season only in the Phoenix area, confining the players’ travel to their hotel and the ballparks; the NBA has flirted with the idea of a truncated, single-location postseason in order to crown a 2020 league champion; and the PGA has modified their schedule to accommodate the three remaining majors, rescheduling the PGA Championship, the US Open, and the Masters for August, September, and November respectively.

However, as happy as it would make millions of fans to see sports return to action this summer, it would be in the best interests of the suspended professional sports leagues to cancel their remaining schedules for the 2020 season. The NBA. The NHL. The MLB. The PGA Tour. All of them. Even the NFL and NCAA Football should consider delaying their seasons as well.

It pains me to say it as a life-long sports fan, but reviving what has become a dead season would be a colossal error for many reasons, the most glaring of which being the logistical issues that the leagues would encounter in trying to resume their seasons before the fall.

In the case of the NBA and MLB’s season revival plans, they would each need to cobble together hundreds of COVID-19 tests just to be able to medically clear the players and coaches looking to participate in games; and even if they do manage to find enough healthy players to restart the season, strict quarantines would separate team personnel from their families for what would be a minimum of two to three months, posing a major threat to the mental health of the players and coaches (the quarantine would also limit the ability of MLB teams to make roster moves during the regular season).

And if the isolation from the outside world doesn’t drive the MLB players completely insane, the league’s proposed schedule and gameplay regulations would surely put them over the edge.

In order for each team to play a sufficient number of games, there would likely be multiple seven-inning doubleheaders on every team’s schedule; and those games, like all of the ones that would be played during the Phoenix-only portion of the season, would look significantly different from a typical baseball game.

The managers would not be permitted any mound visits during the game; the plate umpire would make calls via an electronic strike zone; and anyone not on the field of play would be subject to the country’s social distancing guidelines.

Nothing says “Major League Baseball” like forcing a fatigued group of players and coaches to sit six feet away from each other in the empty bleachers.

Although uncertainty still looms over how the NBA and MLB would execute their proposed return plans, there is absolute certainty that the product of any returning league would be substandard.

It would be unreasonable to expect NBA and NHL players to make a smooth transition into postseason play after a multi-month layoff; it would be unreasonable to expect golfers to weather the playing conditions for a Masters round in November as successfully as they would during a round in April; and it would be unreasonable to expect an empty minor league ballpark under the scorching Arizona sun to be able to replicate the atmosphere of a major league game (just ask the Orioles how playing a game without fans went for them).

Speaking of fans, on an Apr. 4 conference call with the commissioners of the major American sports leagues, President Donald Trump said that he doesn’t expect spectators to be permitted at sporting events until at least August or September, meaning that any sporting event held this summer would lack the passionate fan support that adds an extra layer of excitement to the game.

In the end though, even if the leagues are ultimately able to finish their seasons, what would the players truly achieve by returning to action? 

Would a championship in a shorter, more volatile postseason format be of any help to Alex Ovechkin or LeBron James when they are compared to other all-time greats in their respective sports? Would a World Series title be able to erase the traumatic five-month isolation that the players and coaches endured in order to win it? Would Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks be able to truly revel in their ending of a five-decade championship drought if they did it in a Las Vegas ballroom 1,800 miles away from their long-suffering fanbase?

Maybe winning would feel the same for the players regardless of the playing conditions, but risking their physical and mental well-being doesn’t seem like a worthwhile pursuit in a season that will forever have an asterisk next to it. 

2020 has become a lost year in many respects, and dragging a bunch of mentally and physically sluggish players out of lockdown isn’t going to change that.

Yes, the leagues would lose a lot of money by cancelling the rest of the season. Yes, the players and coaches would miss out on a championship opportunity. Yes, fans would have to deal with another few months of no live sports. But if the goal of bringing back sports during this historic pandemic is to restore a sense of normalcy to the world, implementing a premature, logistically-flawed season revival isn’t going to make that dream a reality.

Look, I, like everyone else, am longing for the day when the CDC will tell us that we can resume our normal lives. I miss the excitement of live sports, and no number of ESPN Classics will be able to properly fill that void; but neither will cheap imitations of the sports that we as fans hold so dear to our hearts.