State of Play: How and When Sports Leagues Plan to Come Back

Sports
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President Trump has been consistent about his desire to see live sports action return to American televisions with or without fans. Dr. Fauci has been less consistent in his optimism, but since everyone is tired of listening to Fauci it’s time to take a look at the various sports leagues and what they’re doing to get back on the playing field.

Let’s start with the good news: NASCAR and the UFC are back:

The UFC actually beat NASCAR to the punch by announcing that they will host a slate of three events starting with UFC 249 in Florida on May 9th. UFC 249 will be a pay-per-view event featuring Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje fighting for the interim lightweight title and the right to face Khabib Nurmagomedov. The card will also feature Bantamweight Champion Henry Cejudo versus Dominick Cruz.

Then, the UFC will hold two Fight Night events on May13th and May 16th.

“All three will take place in an empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena and with numerous extra safety protocols in place because of the coronavirus crisis,” according to Yahoo! Sports.

NASCAR will follow quickly on the heels of the UFC when they resume their season May 17th at Darlington. Not only that, Darlington will be just the first of seven races in a 11-day stretch.

“{NASCAR} will hold three races over four days in Darlington before moving to the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina on May 24, where it will hold four races in four days,” Yahoo! Sports reported.

All UFC and NASCAR events will take place without fans.

College Football:

The good news continues when it comes to the college gridiron. This week, Texas Tech and Texas A&M announced that they will resume classes in the fall with the intention of also playing football. Baylor University made a similar announcement recently as well. At least half a dozen other universities have announced that fall classes will be open.

That’s a huge development for college football considering that most universities had refused to hold athletic events if classes were not in session. To be clear, the universities have not said fans will be allowed to attend games.

The potential snag may come with Big 10 schools like Maryland and Rutgers, which are based in states with severe stay-at-home orders and social distancing restrictions in place. Though, several schools appear to be back on track to re-start.

MLB:

Major League Baseball was the only major sport to have the beginning of its season disrupted by the coronavirus. Given that, much of the talk about getting back to sports has centered around MLB. As Commissioner Manfred has said, he fully “anticipates” a return to baseball at some point this season, he just doesn’t know when that will happen.

There are two proposed plans that seem to be getting the most traction right now: First, a plan that would have the league re-draw divisions to essentially create a regional system with groups of teams playing at one stadium, similar to the NCAA Tournament.

The reported start time for this proposal is around mid-June.

The second proposal may still involve re-drawn divisions and regional play, but this plan has the league starting July 4th.

Proposed regional sites include Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Both plans center around a regular season of roughly 80-120 games, with an expanded postseason that would stretch well into the fall and even, possibly, winter. Of course, keeping the teams in regions would allow the league to conduct regular testing and control player movement much better than they normally would. So, the chatter is positive, in that it shows baseball is likely to return in the next six to eight weeks. However, as with all these discussions, fan attendance is no guarantee.

NBA:

MLB isn’t the only league looking for a way to protect and monitor their players. This week, a proposal which would have the NBA finish the remainder of their season in Disney World started gaining traction. Being able to keep players in a “bubble,” would absolutely allow the league to better test their players and regulate movement.

Not to mention that Disney would have a large incentive to help the NBA finish their season considering that ESPN – owned by Disney – has a massive contract with the league. As it stands, the league is set to re-open practice facilities in states where stay-at-home restrictions have been reduced, on May 8th.

NFL:

The American sports world cannot “be back,” until the NFL is back. The good news there is, the NFL appears to be on-track to open on schedule. Roger Goodell linked the country’s recovery to the league’s resumption of play, stressing how the sport can help the country heal.

“We can help bring our communities together,” Goodell said. “We can provide hope. We can provide a distraction from the everyday issues and show people that there is a future out there and that we’re all going to be part of that.”

In recent weeks one of the league’s most influential owners, the Falcons Arthur Blank, said that he envisions an on-time start for the NFL, just without fans. The NFL still faces the issues the rest of the leagues face when it comes to figuring out testing and regulating player movement. However, given their regularly scheduled September start, Roger Goodell’s league will have more time to figure this out.

For now, it appears the NFL will have a very abbreviated offseason and an on-time start. Though, a lot can change between now and September.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn

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