Pro sports are slowly starting up again

NBA, NHL will begin playing games next month, and MLB might join them if owners and players can reach an agreement and stop bickering over money

Andrew Sousa, Sports Editor

With most states slowly reopening, the hope for the return of professional sports has reopened as well.

Specifically in California, 51 of the 58 counties have entered or will soon enter Phase 3 of Gov. Gavin Newson’s plan, which includes the reopening of live professional sports, albeit without fans. Contra Costa county is among the seven counties still in Phase 2. This leaves the possibility of local teams like the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants to finally start their season with the rest of Major League Baseball.

As the country has begun to ease restrictions, the push for MLB, the NBA, NHL and other professional sports to resume has grown even stronger. And while these leagues all have very different ideas of how to resume play, the hope that these leagues will resume, or start in the case of the MLB, has increased.

After weeks of heavy debates, the NBA has finally reached a plan to return to basketball. The NBA announced on June 4 its plan to finish its season, which will resume July 31 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Twenty two teams will return once the league starts up again. These 22 teams consist of the one through eight seeds of each conference, as well as teams within six games of the eighth seeds. In total, 13 Western Conference teams and nine Eastern Conference teams are returning. The remaining eight teams, including the Warriors, are done for the season.

When play resumes, the 22 teams will play the final eight regular season games to help determine seeding. But after this, things get a bit complicated.

If the ninth seed is not within four games of the eighth seed, then their season is over and the eighth seed goes to the playoffs. But if the ninth seed is within four games of the eight seed, then the eight and ninth seed teams will play each other in a mini-two game series. If the eight seed wins one game, then they move on and the ninth seed is eliminated. But if the ninth seed wins both games, then they qualify for the playoffs and the eighth seed goes home.

After that, the playoffs carry on as normal, with eight teams in each conference and best of seven series, with a Game 7 of the NBA Finals set for Oct.17. The beginning of the 2020-2021 season has also been pushed back to Dec. 1.

The NHL also has a set plan to resume its season. The NHL hopes to resume play sooner than the NBA in late June or early July. When the season resumes, the NHL will have a 24-team playoff tournament in two host cities that have yet to be decided, but a list of cities includes Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and Vancouver.

The top four teams in each conference would play each other in a three-game mini-season to determine seeding. The remaining 16 teams would then play each other in two rounds of a best-of–five series to form the final eight teams. From there, the teams would play best-of-seven series until a champion was crowned.

Like the NBA, the NHL will play without fans. And like the Warriors, the Bay Area hockey team, the Sharks, is eliminated from postseason play.

MLB, however, is a completely different story, with owners and the union unable to figure out their financial fight. Without any real set plan in place to return, all that is really known is that if the season begins, it will likely be sometime in July.    The league’s proposal this week offered 72 games beginning July 14 with 70 percent of players’ full prorated pay guaranteed and up to 83 percent once the postseason ends, according to ESPN. MLB originally proposed a 52-game season.

The MLB Players Association (MLBPA) had been calling for a 114-game season, but offered an 89-game regular season at full prorated pay on Tuesday. The MLBPA responded on Saturday to the league’s latest offer with no counter-proposal but a demand that MLB set a schedule by the end of business on Monday, ESPN reported.

Disputes over revenue sharing and player safety have hampered the MLB and MLBPA from reaching a conclusive agreement on how to start the season. All-Star players such as Blake Snell and Bryce Harper have gone on record to state that if there is reduced pay, they will not play this season.

If no deal is reached between the league and the players association, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said that the league will start the season on their own, playing around 48 to 55 games, a schedule which would greatly benefit owners because the more games played with empty stadiums the less money owners lose. Manfred told ESPN this week that “unequivocally we are going to play Major League Baseball this year,” and placed the chances at “100 percent.”

Major League Soccer is facing similar issues to MLB with disagreements between the league and the players halting the resumption of the season. While voluntary workout sessions with teams have been cleared to take place, the actual season returning is still up in the air. The league has discussed having a summer tournament to close out the year, but agreements have not been reached.

While fans would not be allowed into stadiums to start the season, the possibility of fans attending games later in the season has not been ruled out.

While fans wait for the four major leagues to start up, at least there are other professional sports we can watch live. NASCAR began  racing again with no fans in attendance, and this week the PGA resumed the golf schedule with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. The tour’s first tournament in three months is being played without fans as well.

For those wondering how and when sports will even return this season, European leagues can give us a glimpse. In England, the Premier League, the top soccer league, has plans to return June 17 with no fans in attendance for now. Players will be tested for COVID-19 frequently.

While the return of sports still seems like a distant future, hope is on the horizon.