When many professional sports came to a grinding halt as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials across every major sporting league were faced with tough decisions. The normalcy that was once crowded arenas and players live in action now seems reckless and unsafe.
So the question remains: will sports ever be the same?
There is a high level of uncertainty as the coronavirus continues to spread, making long-term planning difficult and forlorn. With millions of fans clamoring for any iota of sports, though, commissioners and officials have worked to adjust their league schedules. Here’s where some of the major leagues stand.
Before the thought of the coronavirus ever came into view, the NBA regular season was scheduled to end on April 15, with the playoffs beginning on April 18. Those dates are now in the rearview mirror, but there is still a hope that the season can be salvaged. On April 17, the league’s Board of Governors met to discuss how to move forward but agreed they “are not in any position” to make concrete decisions, nor do they know when they will be. That same day, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association announced a 25% pay cut for players beginning on May 15.
If and when the league decides to resume the season, there will be a 25-day “return to basketball window” where players would begin working themselves back into playing shape. Those within the league see the viability of rapid-fire coronavirus tests as the critical hurdle that must be cleared before games can resume.
Yet, even if the league does resume play, it is increasingly likely they will do so without fans. NBA arenas, due to their large size and seating capacity, are brooding caverns when not filled with fans; without fans, the in-game atmosphere would be eerie and boring, according to players. To combat the silence, the games would be played in team practice facilities, local college gyms or even neutral locations, such as Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
While the thought of the NBA returning soon is exciting, the fate of the season is still up in the air. In an interview with TNT on April 6, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the earliest a decision could be made is early May.
The NFL is the least affected major sports league. Fortunately for the league, games are not scheduled to start until September, per usual. The only major event they have had to alter is the 2020 draft. Originally scheduled to occur in Las Vegas, the in-person draft was canceled and all picks will be made virtually. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce first-round picks from his basement on April 23.
Social distancing has also effectively negated the pre-draft scouting cycle. Coaches and general managers have not been able to meet with prospects for interviews or personal workouts due to new league restrictions. This has left many questions for players and coaches unanswered. For instance, projected top-five pick Tua Tagovailoa was hoping to prove the durability of his surgically reconstructed hip, but now teams are forced to trust the word of the young quarterback’s doctors.
The MLB’s opening day is now behind us as the first pitch was scheduled to be thrown on March 26. Rumored plans for returning are limited in comparison with other major leagues, though there are reports of the MLB and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) creating a plan to resume games in late May or early June. All games would be held in and around Phoenix, Arizona, an area abundant with spring training facilities as well as the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field.
To adhere to social distancing guidelines, they would plan to use an electronic strike zone and have players sit in the stands as opposed to dugouts. MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark is optimistic the league will continue play in 2020, but he is aware of the pandemic’s unpredictability.
After the near one-month hiatus of sports, the PGA Tour was the first organization to formally announce a return schedule on April 16. The return of the tour is scheduled for June 8 at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Charles Schwab Challenge. Tournaments will be held every week until Thanksgiving, meaning that many of the larger tournaments will take place in late summer and early fall: the PGA Championship in August; the U.S. Open and Ryder Cup in September and the Masters Tournament in November. The British Open, scheduled for mid-July, was canceled earlier this month and has no plans to return.
The Masters — which has been played in April for 75 years — will now retire its familiar spring sights of blooming magnolias and azaleas at Augusta National Golf Club in exchange for the vibrant reds and oranges of fall. Golfers are also interested in seeing how the colder weather will affect play. Professional golf icon Jack Nicklaus avoids Augusta’s course during November himself due to a number of conditions including overseeding, poor fairways and lack of daylight. Golfer Fred Couples is also concerned that the course will play much longer due to the different time of year.
Despite this glimmer of hope, there are still many questions left unanswered. As stated in their announcement, the tour plans on holding the first four events without fans. Players, caddies, event staff, media crews and tour officials will still be on the course at these events. However, international players will have to navigate complicated travel situations, hotel accommodations must be made and frequent testing must be ensured for all those involved. While this is a promising start for the return of sports, many have an “I’ll believe it when I see it” mindset. Players like Jim Furyk are apprehensive about playing without fans as they fear competition may be awkward with just the players and the media.
While the return of the PGA seems like a promising start for the sports world, the coronavirus situation can change drastically — and quickly. Despite the uncertainty, the PGA’s confidence and progressiveness leaves fans in anticipation for June. Another jolt came on April 15 when infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said that sports could feasibly return in the summer without fans during a Snapchat interview with Peter Hamby, host of “Good Luck America.” In a world of uncertainty and fear, sports fans will at least — for now — have a live event to look forward to.