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When Can We Expect Professional Sport In The US To Return?

The COVID-19 crisis has ravaged the global sporting calendar. By mid-March, almost all competitions were cancelled or postponed as the pandemic swept from country to country, in what has been the biggest disruption to sport since World War Two. However, as more governments get a handle on the virus and transmission rates drop, we’re slowly starting to see sport resume—albeit without crowds to prevent mass gatherings.

In South Korea—a country which has been widely heralded for its outstanding coronavirus response— sports including baseball, soccer and golf are back underway, while countries like Germany, Romania and Taiwan have also got live sport going again. This has all been made possible with regular testing of the athletes involved and stringent physical distancing measures, including quarantining teams in hotels.

So the question on many American sports fan’s lips is: when exactly will sports be returning here? While the noises coming out of major leagues are of a determination to resume, we are yet to see this come to pass. And with the US struggling to contain the pandemic and testing not yet widely available, it appears that this still could be some way off. Here are some of the latest predictions for when some of the major competitions can resume.

While we wait for US sport events to resume we can follow other sport online like on TVsportguide.com, where you can find the calendar of all the upcoming sport events and the TV channels that broadcast them

NFL

Considering the previous NFL season ended in February and the new one isn’t due to begin until September, football has suffered less disruption than most other sports, aside from April’s 2020 Draft being a virtual one. And it appears that the league are shooting for a September start as usual, with a full fixture schedule released in early May.

To achieve this, teams must be able to open their offices and training facilities to hold training camps, which typically begin in mid-July. However, various state and local regulations currently prevent them from doing so, and different teams are following different laws depending on the state they’re in. The fact that the league’s teams are spread across more than two dozen states means it is difficult to predict when all of them will be able to hold training camps. Meanwhile, the extension of the virtual offseason by two weeks suggests that the NFL is already running behind schedule.

More importantly though, teams must be able to ensure that players and staff do not become infected with COVID-19 before football can resume. While the NFL have released guidelines to teams for how to re-open their facilities safely (including reducing the number of employees working at one time and creating an infection response team), some players are still apprehensive about stepping onto the field again. For instance, Denver Broncos defensive back Kareem Jackson told reporters: “If there’s any threat of us being able to contract Covid in any way and spread it to our families or anybody else, it just doesn’t make sense.” Indeed, NFL Commissioner Joe Goodell has admitted that there is still uncertainty around the resumption plans, claiming it’s impossible to predict what the next few months will bring, though he added that the league will be prepared to address any contingencies as they arise.

NBA

The NBA is optimistic that it can finish the 2019/20 basketball season, which only had a month’s worth of games left to play when it was suspended on March 11th. It is currently unclear when it plans to do so, though NBA commissioner Adam Silver is set to make a decision on the restart date within the next few weeks. The NBA Board of Governors are reportedly open to delaying the start of the 2020/21 season until December or January. Just like all other sports leagues, these games would be in crowdless stadiums, though there has been talk about allowing a limited capacity in order to help teams recuperate some of their lost revenue due to the crisis.

In order to resume, the league is considering creating isolated “bubble” sites in Las Vegas and Orlando, though it isn’t yet clear how this would work in practice. Every team, player, coach and staffer would be isolated at these neutral locations away from the rest of the population, with all games played there. Like in the NFL, issues around testing and player safety remain, along with unresolved agreements such as player salary caps for the 2020/21 season. Failure to reach an agreement on these matters could derail the resumption plans altogether.

MLB

Baseball fans will have been heartened by the restart of the sport in South Korea, and it looks like they could be watching American baseball soon—albeit on their TV screens—after the MLB laid out plans for a July return. In order to make this reality, the league has proposed a truncated 82-game season in place of the usual 162 fixtures each side would play. Teams would also only be against divisional rivals and those in the corresponding geographic division of the opposite league to prevent COVID-19 being spread from state to state. In addition, the league will require upwards of 10,000 COVID-19 tests per week and implement strict social distancing measures within stadiums.

Again though, the path to resumption isn’t a clear one – one reason being a lack of agreement on player salaries, with club owners wanting players to take a pay cut in light of their decimated revenue streams. Another issue is whether the league are able to strike an agreement with the player’s union over working conditions.

NHL

The NHL was suspended on March 12 with 189 regular season games remaining. However, despite rumors that the league could be cancelled, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has since stated that this is “not something [he’s] even contemplating”. In order to resume the league, it appears that teams will have to play in an as-of-yet-undecided playoff format rather than finishing the regular season, with reports of a two-hub system seeing 12 teams based at each site.

There has been no firm decision made on a start date, though July and August have both been discussed. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly has also stated that this wouldn’t impact on the 2020/21 season, which is still planned to be a full, 82-game campaign, with hope that fans may be able to return to stadiums by then. Many of the obstacles that remain are the same as in other sports, from player safety and testing capacity, to how and when training camps can be held. An announcement by the NHL Return to Play Committee on the league’s plans for the season is expected to be released soon, which should give more clarity on what will happen next.