PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – JUNE 5
By Leo Haggerty

IT AIN’T SO EASY

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

The four major professional sports leagues are planning on restarting, or starting, sometime this summer.  The problem is that all four, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association plus Major League Baseball as well as the National Football League, are finding out that this is easier said than done.  Let’s look how each group is progressing, shall we?

I’ll start with the NBA.  The league is tentatively scheduled to resume play with 22 teams involved with the start date targeted for July 31st.  Sounds good, right?

Well, here are the bridges the NBA still has to cross.  The 22 teams need to be able to access their practice facilities which, especially in the major metropolitan areas in the North and West, is problematic at best.  Plus, the entire plan is contingent on agreement with The Walt Disney Company near Orlando in Florida to be the single site for all games and practices and housing for the duration of the season.  That will be a logistic nightmare and the cost will be exorbitant to say the least.

Now, how about the NHL? The league is allowing teams to open their facilities for voluntary workouts on Monday with the maximum number of six players allowed at any given time.  Training camps will begin no earlier than July 10th with 24 teams starting play sometime in late July with 12 teams at each hub rink somewhere in North America.  After that, the best-of-seven playoff format is tentatively on-the-books to start sometime in August.  No bad, right?

OK, here’s that dilemma.  So far, there is no set-in-stone agreement with the NHL and the players.  Also, there has been no announcement as to where the two hub cities will be.  A whole lot of “ifs” and “buts” to be ironed out before this plan becomes even close to a reality.

So, what about MLB?  The league and the union are light years apart just on how many games will be played.  In fact, the venues haven’t been locked in either.

In regard to games, the owners want between 40 and 60 per team while the union insists on a 114-game regular season with an expanded playoff format ending sometime in November.  That could produce a Thanksgiving Day Game 7 with the New York Yankees hosting the Washington Nationals in Tampa.  Don’t laugh because it could happen if Mother Nature has a say..

Finally, let’s look at the NFL.  Pro football does have the luxury of being in the off-season.  The regular season won’t begin until the second week in September because of the late calendar date for Labor Day.  Another plus.

Still, it’s a crap shoot if the league starts on time.  Coaches have just been allowed to return to their team’s facility and the players are banned until the start of training camp and that date is, like all the other league’s time frames, tentative.

So, as you can plainly see, none of the four professional sports leagues are even close to getting back under way before August 1.  Also, that date may be too optimistic and here’s why.

No one can even submit an educated guess on whether the pandemic or the protest over the death of George Floyd in police custody will subside.  It’s going to be an long road to traverse before any of them can safely resume the 2019-20 season or start the 2020 campaign.  Plus, we haven’t even broached the subject of fan attendance and that’s an issue for another column.

My guess is that I, honesty, don’t even have one.  I’m still thinking that the NBA and the NHL will not be able to safely return and the MLB will never start and the NFL will have a delayed opening for the same safety concerns.

This is one time that I freely admit that I hope I’m wrong.  That’s because, if I’m right, it’s going to be a looooooooong summer of no team sports.  PGA or NASCAR anyone?