Sports leagues examining ways to return to play

MLB considering radical realignment, while the NBA looks into the bubble

The ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, is one option the NBA is considering to resume playing. The availability of courts, lodging and food have made it appealing for the league.

Ever since the National Basketball Association (NBA) cancelled in early March, the question of when sports will return has gone unanswered. While The Last Dance will keep us entertained for the next two Sundays, I’m not sure how many more virtual simulations I can watch if it goes on any longer. 

Leagues across the U.S. are asking themselves the same question. With everything from player salaries to media revenues to game day employee paychecks at stake, teams can’t afford to not play games much longer. But how teams reopen is trickier said than done. 

The most important thing that hinges on the return of all sports is whether or not rapid COVID-19 testing will be available. If not, it is unlikely the leagues will return soon.

Major League Baseball was finishing up spring training when the season was postponed indefinitely. Despite opening day being pushed back, MLB is considering a radical restructuring in order to ensure that baseball happens in 2020. To begin, the league would remove the National and American Leagues for this season. In its place, there would be three divisions consisting of 10 teams from both leagues. At least 100 regular season games would be played with an expanded playoff format for the postseason. Teams would potentially be  able to play at their home stadiums, depending on how the states either lift or provide exceptions to stay-at-home orders. Another potential scenario is for the teams to play games in their spring-training homes. 

The National Basketball Association is in no rush to return to the court. They had 259 games left on its regular season schedule remaining when the season ended. But it is unclear if and when the NBA will return to action. 

The NBA is reportedly considering the “bubble” option. A potential single-site option similar to the Summer League’s style of play has been considered, with places like Disney World and MGM Grand in Las Vegas being considered. The idea of isolating players and team staff was thrown out after it would be apparent they would need to be away from their families. 

The biggest problem the NBA is having with the  “bubble” option is finding a way to safely house everyone that it has deemed essential to produce a game.  The problem is that number is about 1,500 for the entire league. Because of this, the NBA has not yet set a return date, but the league is allowing players to return to practice facilities under certain conditions and where it’s legal to do so.  

According to National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettina, the NHL is still in “take things one step at a time mode.” In response to the suspended season the NHL has created the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play Committee, to coordinate efforts from the league and players if and when the league returns. The bubble option is also being considered, although the concerns of being away from family are apparent here as well. At the moment, teams are still banned from practicing in their facilities and any player who tries to practice will be fined. There is no current return date for the NHL. 

The National Football League schedule is expected to be released on-time in a few weeks and the expectation is for it to not change because of the pandemic. The biggest problem the NFL could face is whether or not teams will be allowed to play in their home stadiums, with the governors holding the power on whether or not that can happe