The Return of Sports: Latest on NBA, MLB Returns

When it comes to sports news, this week has been a tale of two extremes. The NBA started the week off rather quiet after Adam Silver discussed his hope to bring the NBA back on July, but over the last couple of days he has put the proposal into action, ironing out the details and giving it to the NBA owners for a vote. Now, the NBA joins the NHL among sports leagues with an official plan to return.

The only major sports league that hasn’t worked out the details is the MLB. Early this week, it appeared that the MLB and MLBPA were making progress with their negotiations. The owners rejected the MLBPA’s 114-game proposal with the original prorated salary plan the MLB decided upon in March. The MLB considered a counter to the plan with 50-60 games and that same prorated salary, but decided not to counter. Now, negotiations are at a standstill until the MLBPA sends in a better plan, and reports are saying both sides have “greater pessimism than ever before” about a 2020 season happening at all.

Today, I’ll be writing about the latest details on the NBA’s return and explain my return to play plan that I think the MLB and MLBPA would both agree to.

Let’s start with the good news from the NBA.

NBA to Bring 22 teams to Orlando for July 31 Return to Play

The NBA’s plan for a July 31 return. Below I have outlined what new information we have received since my last update, what I think of this plan and what I think the return could look like logistically.

What we now know:

  • The NBA has decided upon a 22 team format for it’s return
  • The top 8 from each conference as well as the next 6 teams in the overall standings (listed above) will be included
  • Teams will play 8 “regular season” games in order to reach 70+ games and determine seeding for the playoffs
    • The games will be determined based on the original remaining schedule, but not all details are finalized
    • One report said that teams will play their next 8 games that are against other teams in the NBA bubble. If their upcoming opponent is not in the bubble or has already played 8 games, the opponent will be skipped
  • If the #9 seed is within four games of the #8 seed, there will be a play-in series:
    • The 8 seed would start with a 1-0 advantage in a 3 game series
    • This means the 8 seed would only need to win one game, while the 9 seed would need to win two in a row
  • It appears that the playoffs will run as normal (8 East teams and 8 West teams seeded by conference)
  • Games will not begin until July 31, but training in Orlando will begin between July 9-11
  • The season will be completed on October 12, followed by an October 15 draft and October 18 beginning to free agency
  • The draft lottery will take place on August 25
  • Up to 7 games could be played each day, using three different arenas at Disney
  • The 2020-21 season is still set to begin close to Christmas; the league appears to be planning for a full 82 game season that runs through August; it could even shift the schedule permanently

My Thoughts on the Plan

I think 22 teams is kind of a weird number, and teams will likely finish with different numbers of regular season games, but the plan was based on historical late season playoff run stats, so it’s hard to argue with Adam Silver, who has a very good track record as the NBA commissioner. This plan gives players about a month to train at team facilities before traveling to Orlando in early July, when COVID-19 numbers will have likely seen a further decline. Staying inside the bubble for majority of the time and testing daily adds further safety measures to a return to play.

One thing I would like to see is some minor modifications to the schedule to make sure that each team in the bubble has played each other team in the bubble at least once. If you look at the NBA schedule from before the pause, there are three pairs of teams (out of the 22 in the bubble) that have yet to play a game this season. The Clippers have not yet played the Nets, the Raptors have not yet played the Grizzlies, and the Pelicans have not yet played the Wizards. I think each of those match-ups should happen at least once before playoff action begins.

What the Scheduling Details Could Look Like:

Considering what we know, I think the schedule for the remainder of the season and next couple seasons could look something like this:

  • July 31 – August 14: Resumption of Regular Season
  • August 16 – August 19: Play-in Games
  • August 21 – September 3: Conference Quarterfinals
  • September 4 – September 16: Conference Semifinals
  • September 17 – September 29: Conference Finals
  • September 30 – October 12: NBA Finals
  • October 15: 2020 NBA Draft
  • October 18: NBA Free Agency Begins
  • December 25: 2020-21 NBA Season Begins
  • August 2021: 2020-21 Season Ends, 2021 Draft and Free Agency
  • The 2021-22 season would either begin in October as normal or the NBA calendar would change permanently

Games could be aired on local stations as well as ABC, ESPN, or TNT. I think 5-6 games will be played per day during the regular season, with teams playing just about every two days (with the occasional back-to-back or drought).

I feel that the NBA could benefit from a permanent calendar change, as they would run through the winter alongside hockey and through the spring and early summer alongside baseball. Basketball’s conclusion would correlate with football’s beginning, allowing the nation’s two biggest sports to dominate.

This would be very good for the NBA and NFL, and the NHL already thrives alongside the NBA. The one sport that could be negatively impacted is baseball, which is already losing fans.

MLB Continues to Struggle in 2020 Season Negotiations

After the MLB owners rejected the MLBPA proposal for the 2020 season, it appears MLB negotiations are currently at a standstill. While other sports have reached agreements to return, the chances of a 2020 MLB season are looking slimmer and slimmer. This is because the players don’t want to take too big a pay cut if they’re going to be risking their lives, and the owners don’t want to lose revenue. You could also say poor leadership on MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s part is to blame. But I think it’s important that both sides come to a compromise, because if they don’t, the consequences could be hard to recover from.

The MLB was already planning to cut minor league teams after losing revenue. If the MLB is sitting around while the NBA and NHL dominate the summer, the league will lose even more fans and even more money. If negotiations continue to go along like this, I don’t know if we’ll see baseball for a long time. The pandemic isn’t expected to be fully over until 2021, and after the 2021 MLB season, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. That would mean more negotiation between the owners and MLBPA and the potential of a league lockout. If the MLB loses two years to the virus and has a lockout after that, I can’t see them maintaining their reputation as a Big 4 sports league in the US, and I don’t know if the league will be able to survive at all, especially if the NBA pushes forward their season permanently. As an avid baseball fan, this worries me greatly, and I really hope the MLB can come to a compromise, hold a season, and continue to thrive. If this is it for baseball, Manfred and the owners, as well as the players will all be held accountable. The owners and Manfred need to understand that their current greed could bite them in the back later. The players need to understand that failure to compromise now could mean their playing careers are over.

Here is a full proposal that I think both sides could agree to. It includes things that both sides want, and includes a compromise, with players making about 50% of their salaries in a 78 game season.

Timeline:

With most of the country on a decline in terms of coronavirus cases, the timeline really comes down to the league’s ability to compromise. If this proposal is agreed upon soon, it could be good to start things off quickly and try and become the first sport to return, which could bring some lost fans back. In mid-June, I think it would be fine for a 2.5 week preseason to begin. With enough players on the roster, teams could scrimmage against themselves during the preseason to minimize travel. But by 4th of July weekend, I think teams should at least be able to travel to other close stadiums, which means a season could begin with modified divisions.

The Three Divisions:

East (Combined AL East and NL East)

Blue Jays
Braves
Marlins
Mets
Nationals
Orioles
Phillies
Rays
Red Sox
Yankees

Central (Combined AL Central in NL Central)

Brewers
Cardinals
Cubs
Indians
Pirates
Reds
Royals
Tigers
Twins
White Sox

West (Combined AL West and NL West)

Angels
Astros
Athletics
Dodgers
Diamondbacks
Giants
Mariners
Padres
Rangers
Rockies

In the worst case scenario, teams could play at Spring Training stadiums (East in Florida, West in Arizona) and Minor League stadiums in Texas for the Central Division.

Rule Changes:

Permanent Rule Changes:

  • All teams play with a designated hitter
  • The wild card playoff round will consist of 3 games, not 1 game
  • The league could even abolish the AL and NL for good, or expand/realign when COVID-19 is over

Temporary Rule Changes (just this season):

  • No fans in the stadium
  • All players, coaches, reporters, and staff must go through the following process before stadium entry and stadium exit:
    • Coronavirus Testing
    • Hand Sanitizing
    • Temperature Check
    • Mask Check (Must be wearing a mask into the stadium)
  • All players, coaches, reporters, and staff must wear a face mask during the game
  • No more than 50 people in the clubhouse or dugout at once
  • Teams may hold 50 players on the roster in order to make up for canceled minor league seasons, but only 30 may show up for each game
  • Instead of tagging players out, defenders must always tag the base
  • No direct contact between players, coaches, and staff is allowed
  • No hand-to-face contact (like pitchers licking fingers) or spitting during the game
  • Players may be disciplined for failing to practice social distancing measures inside or outside the stadium

Regular Season Schedule:

This season, teams should only play other teams in their revised division. Teams will play a total of 78 games across 24 series:

  • A home and away three-game series against each team (54 games across 18 series’)
  • Two extra four game series’ (home and away) against three designated rivals (24 games across 6 series’)

Here are my proposed rivalry series’. These teams will play 14 games against each other instead of the standard 6. Rivalries are based on original divisions, rivalry history, and location.

Rivalries in East Division:

Blue Jays: Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees
Braves: Nationals, Marlins, Phillies
Marlins: Rays, Braves, Mets
Mets: Phillies, Yankees, Marlins
Nationals: Braves, Phillies, Orioles
Orioles: Blue Jays, Rays, Nationals
Phillies: Mets, Nationals, Braves
Rays: Marlins, Orioles, Red Sox
Red Sox: Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays
Yankees: Red Sox, Mets, Blue Jays

Teams play mostly divisional rivals in these games, but three inter-league rivalries are included in order for the schedule to work. I matched up the Yankees and Mets (cross-town rivals), Rays and Marlins (cross-state rivals), and Orioles and Nationals, who play very close to each other.

Rivalries in Central Division:

Brewers: Cubs, Reds, Pirates
Cardinals: Royals, Pirates, Cubs
Cubs: Brewers, White Sox, Cardinals
Indians: White Sox, Tigers, Reds
Pirates: Reds, Cardinals, Brewers
Reds: Pirates, Brewers, Indians
Royals: Cardinals, Twins, Tigers
Tigers: Twins, Indians, Royals
Twins: Tigers, Royals, White Sox
White Sox: Indians, Cubs, Twins

As I did in the Eastern Division, I included three inter league rivalries here: the White Sox and Cubs (all-Chicago), the Cardinals and Royals (all-Missouri), and the Indians and Reds (all-Ohio).

Rivalries in Western Division:

Angels: Dodgers, Athletics, Rangers
Astros: Rangers, Diamondbacks, Mariners
Athletics: Mariners, Angels, Giants
Dodgers: Angels, Giants, Padres
Diamondbacks: Padres, Astros, Rockies
Giants: Rockies, Dodgers, Athletics
Mariners: Athletics, Rangers, Astros
Padres: Diamondbacks, Rockies, Dodgers
Rangers: Astros, Mariners, Angels
Rockies: Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks

There are two obvious inter-league match-ups here. I matched up the Giants and Athletics (both Bay Area) and the Dodgers and Angels (both LA). For the third match-up, I figured I’d have the Astros, a former NL team, take on the Diamondbacks, the closest NL West team to Texas.

Playoff Schedule and Seeding:

A 24 series schedule should take about 12 weeks. 12 weeks from 4th of July weekend would take us to late September. This means the playoffs could start early, allowing for a three game wild card round.

The MLB is talking about a 14-team playoff, but I would still propose a 10-team playoff field, as 78 games is plenty of time to determine who the true contenders in the league are. Seeding would go as follows:

Seeds 1-3: Division winners seeded by record
Seeds 4-6: Division runner-ups seeded by record
Seeds 7-10: 4 best remaining teams (wild card teams) seeded by record

Here’s the playoff timeline I would propose:

Wild Card Series (3 games in 3 days):

September 25-September 27

Quarterfinals (5 games in 7 days):

September 29-October 5

Semifinals (7 games in 9 days):

October 7-October 15

World Series (7 games in 11 days):

October 19-October 29

A 4 day break would take place before the World Series to allow teams to rest up, in addition to rest in between World Series games. This format would also make for some interesting match-ups, as seeding is not divided by AL and NL. There could be an AL team against an NL team in Round 1, or even two teams from the same league in the World Series. Imagine a Red Sox-Yankees World Series!

The playoffs would involve more travel than the regular season, but the hope is that travel concerns have lessened by the time late September comes around. If not, playoffs could be played in a central location (maybe Florida spring training ballparks?)

This schedule would allow the off-season to begin on a regular timeline and hopefully, the next season would be able to begin as normal, possibly even with fans back.

I do think the ideas of universal DH and a 3-game wild card round should stay in effect though. These ideas have been in conversation for a long time, and now is the perfect opportunity to give it a try and hopefully stick with it after success.

Even if they don’t follow this timeline and jump into action this quickly (which I don’t honestly expect to happen), a plan like this would be a good compromise and would be safe, as those who test positive for the virus or feel sick would not be allowed into the stadium and would be forced to self-isolate.

That’s all for this edition of the Return of Sports. I may have more entries to this column in the coming weeks if additional news about any sport comes out, and I will also be writing about my experiences watching these sports in their new formats. In the meantime, I’ll still be continuing with the NFC half of my NFL Draft Report Cards, and I’ll have my predictions for the resumption of the NBA and NHL seasons out soon.

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