How have professional sports teams fared during the pandemic?

Some leagues have responded to COVID-19 better than others

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Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

Ten members of the Tennessee Titans tested positive for COVID-19 after their game last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, forcing the NFL to postpone the Titans game with the Steelers this weekend.

Tanner Curtis, Staff Writer

The New York Yankees and Washington Nationals stepped on the field on July 23 for the first game of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.

And when that happened, major professional sports in America ended a more than four-month hiatus that began on March 11 when the National Basketball Association suspended its season after the positive coronavirus test by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

MLB was soon followed by the NBA, National Hockey League, and now the National Football League.

Each of these four leagues has been trying to figure out the best way to play the games that people love while keeping everyone safe during a worldwide pandemic. All of these sports have had their challenges with each league having at least 30 cases of COVID-19, but some were able to regroup quicker than others and come up with a good response to this deadly virus that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Americans in about six months.

But how has each league really fared?

I’m going to be breaking down the data, including case numbers and how often new cases are being found, along with sharing public opinion from students about how each league has done. I’ll give each league an A-F letter grade on how well they handled the COVID-19 outbreak so far.

  MLB

The first league to begin play during the pandemic was the MLB. The first action they took was to shorten their season from 162 games down to 60. They also made the schedules so each team would have minimal travel to try and limit the exposure of the players. This was done by teams only playing in their own division and their interleague counterparts. For example, American League West teams like the hometown Oakland A’s play teams in their division and the National League West.

Saldy, these changes have not been enough to prevent outbreaks during the season. MLB reported more than 60 COVID-19 cases before the start of the season and have continued to experience problems during the season, according to Bleacher Report.

MLB has been forced to postpone 41 games due to multiple teams contracting the virus including the A’s. The Giants had to postpone two games in September when a player recorded a false positive test.

Having teams travel at all has caused a lack of control of players going out into public areas. This has caused a lot of problems with teams such as members of the St. Louis Cardinals visiting a casino and having 15 people get infected. The Marlins were the first team to report mass infections when 18 players and staff tested positive for the virus. The Marlins don’t have an exact idea on how they got infected but they believe it happened while they were traveling.

“I would give [MLB] a B- because they should have used a bubble from the start,” junior Ryan Dawson said, “but they did a good job changing the schedules for teams who did get infected.”

MLB has done a little better now later in the season, but new cases are still being reported. The league did, however, announce that it is moving to a bubble format for the postseason, where all playoff games will take place in Texas and Southern California. This is a very smart idea and would keep everyone much safer.

Since the MLB is actively trying to solve the problems it has encountered this year and considering the addition of the bubble idea, the league gets a  C+ grade.

NFL

The NFL and their response has been unsatisfactory to say the least. Teams were isolated to their training facilities, but once the season started there were no changes in the schedules to reduce travel at all.

There were initially about 75 positive cases when training camp started and as of late August the positive test rate stayed around 0.46 percent, according to the NFL players union. This data looked good but this was without traveling or having fans in attendance, which only a few teams will permit at 25-50 percent capacity.

But just this week, the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings have had to close down their practice facilities after 10 members of the Titans tested positive for COVID-19 after their Sunday game. As a result, the Titans game against the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday has also been postponed to either Monday or Tuesday. The Vikings game at Houston is still scheduled for Sunday.

This was the concern heading into the season and why nearly 70 players decided to opt out the season. These players did not feel confident in what the league was doing to ensure their safety, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

“I would give the NFL an A- since they have separated all players by position so they are separated even within teams,” junior Emaad Salman said while teams were in training camps. “They also have wristbands that monitor where people are so if someone does contract the virus we know who they were around. However, having fans puts a lot of people in danger because they are not socially distanced.”

This actually happened after the season opener in Kansas City when a Chiefs fans reportedly tested positive. The team allowed its stadium, which seats more than 76,000 fans, to be filled at 25 percent capacity, or just more than 19,100 fans.

The public opinion seems split on the NFL.

“ I would give a C- because they could have used a bubble to make sure no one could leave their hotel or go anywhere else,” junior Garrett Bullock said.

The NFL has not done enough to keep players safe, by allowing fans to attend and having teams travel back and forth across the country. The league clearly doesn’t care enough about the health and safety of the players and staff. But after three weeks of games they had only one positive COVID-19 test, which seemed promising. For those reasons the NFL gets a C grade.

NBA

The NBA was the second league to return action after being the first to suspend the season in mid-March. Since the NBA shut down, there have been 43 total cases of players and staff members testing positive for the COVID-19, according to CBS Sports.

This may seem like quite a few players, but since the NBA resumed playing official games on Aug. 8, there have been zero cases reported.

The key to the NBA not recording any new cases is the league has isolated teams in a bubble at Disney World near Orlando. The way the bubble works is players are tested every day and if they test positive they must self quarantine for 10 days. Players and staff also had to test negative to enter the bubble, which prevented Houston Rockets All Star Russell Westbrook from entering to join his team on time.

The NBA has done a great job of coming up with a plan early on and executing it very effectively. Players have remained safe and healthy while still being able to complete the regular season and most of the playoffs so far. They even got creative with the fans, since they can’t be there in person. The league  has virtual fans call in to give it as close to the feeling of a sellout crowd as they can get.

“The league strictly regulates their players, constantly testing them and requiring them to self quarantine,” junior Amir Feshari said. “The teams have also helped out their local communities with donations. So I would give them an A.”

The NBA came up with an effective way to keep people healthy and still play by eliminating travel, administering a lot of testing, and keeping the players isolated. It gets an A grade.

NHL

The NHL restarted its season shortly after the NBA on Aug. 1, when the first NHL game was played. The NHL created a four-phase plan for its return and it has been very effective up to this point.

After owners and players came up with a plan of return, teams headed back to informal practices in their home facilities before returning for scheduled formal practices. The final phase had teams entering a bubble in either Toronto or Edmonton, depending on the teams’ conference.

The NHL had 30 positive tests in phase two when teams were in informal practices, but they were able to cut it down to only two positive tests once formal practice began, according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshinski’s article about the NHL and their Coronavirus report.

“I would give the NHL a B+ because I think they handled the situation pretty well by putting everyone in a bubble so they were still able to play,” junior Derek O’Brien said.

Once again, the bubble system worked. Since the players entered the bubble and began playing games, there have been zero new cases. The NHL was able to eliminate travel and isolate players, keeping them safe. The NHL gets an A grade.