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Pro Sports Leagues Set To Challenge Covid-19

Pro Sports Leagues Set To Challenge Covid-19

The Covid-19 Pandemic has caused a plethora of problems in the U.S. unprecedented in the country’s history. From the amount of deaths and cases piling up to the effects on how we live and the forced unveiling of societal dysfunctions, it is an event that will affect us for many years to come.

Even our professional sports leagues have been impacted. When the Pandemic hit our shores in the beginning of 2020, some pro sports leagues including the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) were in the midst of their seasons. Major League Baseball (MLB) was just days away from starting their season. Instead, these leagues suspended play.

The effect of their decision put other pro sports leagues including the National Football League (NFL), Major League Soccer (MLS), and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in limbo. Is it practical to continue to assume that they can have a season or should they just call it a day and cancel 2020?

As the Pandemic evolved the hottest spots in the country were in the northeast and the west. New York State suffered the brunt of the problem while it appeared that California, Oregon, and Washington State seemed to have gotten control. The rest of the states showed little if any signs of the Pandemic.

At this point the pro sports leagues began to believe that there could be a 2020 season after all. Instead of giving in, their executives wanted to push on. Why? Money! If the 2020 season were to be cancelled, all franchises of the pro sports leagues would be without any revenue for the year.

As things appeared to get better, the leagues developed rules that they believed would prevent players from contracting the virus and started to push on for season openings in June and July. Some leagues like the National Basketball Association, the National Women’s Soccer League, and the National Hockey League created formats that allowed them to shorten their season and involved a tournament like process.

So, as we reach the middle of July with just weeks to go before these pro sports leagues venture into their Covid-19 seasons, how do things stand with each league?


The first pro sports league to step forward and challenge Covid-19 is the National Women’s Soccer League. It opened on Saturday, June 27th.

The league’s normal schedule runs from April through October and includes 24 regular season games for each team.

Obviously, having a complete season isn’t practical. So the executives of the league and the players settled on a Challenge Cup tournament format. In order to protect its players, the league decided to create a bubble in Salt Lake City, Utah where the players would live and play all their games. The hope is that the quarantine would prevent players from contracting the disease. And, if some do, they could be isolated from the rest of the players.

Players were allowed to opt out, but would still be paid. Players are to be paid the same amount of money that they would have gotten for a full season. The games would be held on weekends and will be televised.

So, eight teams are now in competition playing four games each in a preliminary round to determine seeding. All but one team will go into the quarterfinals. The contest would then go on to a single-elimination tournament with a champion determined by July 26.

The league actually has nine teams. However, the Orlando Pride has opted out because many of its players have contracted the Coronavirus.

In addition, individual players from the other teams have opted out.

All matches in the preliminary round through the quarterfinals will be played at Zions Bank Stadium; an artificial-turf site located in Herriman, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

The semifinals and the final games will be at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, a venue with a grass field where NWSL and MLS matches are normally played. Fans will not be allowed to attend.


Major League Soccer started its Covid-19 season on July 7th. The teams started to congregate at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, where the players will live and play the matches in June.

Just prior to the start, FC Dallas had to withdraw from the competition because 10 of its players had reportedly contracted the virus.

As the tournament opened, players were still testing positive for the virus. The Nashville Soccer Club had five players test positive for the virus and another four players received inconclusive test results. The entire team was quarantined to their hotel rooms. A spokesman for the league said that their condition would be monitored and evaluated as they go through additional testing. As a result, the team has withdrawn.

Each individual player of the remaining teams in the tournament is tested every other day. Moreover, they are encouraged to practice the safety protocol the league put into place and which they had followed at their home cities before clubs started to gather in Orlando.

After Dallas and Nashville dropped out, the league had to modify its schedule. A total of 51 matches had been planned.

Matches are being played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World. The tournament consists of a group staging, which will determine the seeding, and knockout rounds.

As of July 16, two teams have qualified to the Round of 16 –- the Philadelphia Union and the Orlando City Soccer Club.

Unlike most of the pro sports leagues during normal times, MLS doesn’t have a profitable TV contract. So the teams must rely on game day revenue as well as sponsors. It was important to the league to get back to playing so that they are in front of their fans.

The players agreed to a 7.5 percent salary cut for the duration of the rest of the 2020 season and also gave up several other concessions including reduced team and individual bonuses.

Players and teams also agreed to a reduction of the TV revenue sharing. The previous Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed for the players to get 25 percent starting in 2023, which is the first year of the next national broadcast contract. After a contentious negotiation, the sides agreed to a 12.5 percent sharing plan, but only for 2023. The TV revenue sharing will return to 25 percent starting in 2024.


Just as is the case with MLS, the National Basketball Association will resume its 2020 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Disney World in Orlando, Florida on July 31. Teams will begin arriving in early July. Each team will play eight regular season games after which the postseason will begin and run until October 12.

Twenty-two teams have been invited to participate based on their record when season play was suspended. So eight teams will not be a part of the event.

There will be nine teams from the east participating including the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, the Brooklyn Nets, the Orlando Magic and the Washington Wizards.

Thirteen teams will represent the west. They include the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns.

After the teams play the eight games to finish out the regular season, the top seven seeds in each conference will be locked into the playoffs. If the eighth place teams in each conference have a four game lead over the ninth place teams, those teams will also be locked into the playoffs. If this scenario does not occur, then the eighth place and ninth place teams of each conference will compete in a so-called play-in round for the final spots in the playoffs. The eighth place teams will need to beat its opponent once while the ninth place teams have to win twice.

It was decided to continue the regular season for revenue purposes. If the regular NBA season is cancelled, there could be as much as billions of dollars of lost revenue. Moreover, 25 percent of players’ paychecks have been withheld since May 15. Continuing the season and expanding the playoff field adds weeks of games to the schedule. This allows the league to increase its television revenue and the players recover hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages.

The league has created safety protocols to protect players and team staff from contracting Coronavirus. The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex will serve as the league’s bubble during the regular season and playoff games. They will be required to be tested on a regular schedule.

When the league permitted teams to restart practices in May it offered detailed guidelines that minimize group activities and encourage social distancing during workouts.

The league reports that it is working with infectious disease specialists, public health, experts, and government officials to assure that a rigorous plan is in place during play that will lessen the chance of players contracting the virus. This includes regular testing procedures and strict safety practices.

Players who test positive for the virus will be quarantined.


All 12 teams of the WNBA will participate in a shortened season schedule to be held at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. There will be a regular season schedule of 22 games that will be followed by a traditional playoff. As late as June 15, the league didn’t have many specifics as to how things would run. However, it promised that a safety protocol consistent with the guidelines set by the CDC will be in place.

The league also promised to pay players their full salaries and benefits during the 2020 season.

The IMG Academy is a co-ed private boarding school for athletes. It includes professional and college as well as team training facilities. The campus also includes a Legacy Hotel.

As of June not much detail had been released on how the season would run. However, important highlights include:

The season will begin on July 24th


As is the case with the NWSL, MLS, the NBA, and the WNBA, the NHL plans to sequester their teams. However, instead of doing it in one location like Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, they will be based in two cities in Canada.

The participating eastern conference teams will be stationed in Toronto and the participating teams of the western conference will be hosted at Edmonton. The conference finals and Stanley Cup finals will be played in Edmonton.

The participating teams have been determined based on how the NHL 2019-2020 season finished when play was suspended.

So, the participating eastern conference teams include in order of finish:

  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Philadelphia Flyers
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins
  6. Carolina Hurricanes
  7. New York Islanders
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets
  9. Toronto Maple Leafs
  10. Florida Panthers

The participating western conference teams include in order of finish:

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars
  5. Edmonton Oilers
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Vancouver Canucks
  8. Calgary Flames
  9. Winnipeg Jets
  10. Minnesota Wild
  11. Arizona Coyotes

The Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, the Washington Capitals, and the Philadelphia Flyers of the eastern conference and the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and the Dallas Stars of the western conference are given a bye for the tournament. However, they will play to determine seeding in the playoffs.

The first round brackets have been determined for the rest of the participating teams.

In the eastern conference:

No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens

No 6 Caroline Hurricanes Vs. No. 11 New York Rangers

No. 7 New York Islanders Vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers

No. 8 Columbus Blue Jackets Vs. No. 9 Toronto Maple Leafs

In the western conference:

No. 5 Edmonton Oilers Vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks

No. 6 Nashville Predators Vs. No 11 Arizona Coyotes

No. 7 Vancouver Canucks Vs. No 10 Minnesota Wild

No. 8 Calgary Flames Vs. No 9 Winnipeg Jets.

Two rounds will be played with match ups in the second round based on what teams win in the first. It has not been determined yet whether each round will consist of five-game or seven-game series.

Of course, the league has created safety protocols. They include:

Training camps opened on Monday, July 6. During training camp, players and staff must stay at home as much as possible, avoid unnecessary activities with nonfamily members and not spend time together at close contact.

Teams will test players and staff every other day during training camp with results available within 24 hours. If a player or staff member’s results have not returned by deadline, he can’t attend team practice facilities.

Each team must continue to record symptoms and perform temperature checks daily.

The teams will travel to the host cities on Sunday, July 26. During their first five days at the host city players and staff are permitted to perform their fundamental work and have interactions only with individuals from their own team. When not performing required work, players and staff must stay in their hotel rooms.

Start date for official play is Thursday, July 30.


Major League Baseball was into its Spring Training when the Coronavirus Pandemic started its grip on the country. As a result, the league suspended play to give it time to decide whether or not to have a season.

Negotiations were difficult as players contracted the Coronavirus, but after some consternation a plan was formed.

Instead of a 162-game schedule that occurs regularly, the teams and players agreed to a 60-game schedule. Each team will play 40 games against opponents in their own division and 20 games against teams from the corresponding division in the other league. For example the World Series champion Washington Nationals would play 10 games each against its regular division rivals Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Mets. The Nats would also play four games each against the American League east teams –- the Baltimore Orioles, the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Games will be played in the home parks and there will be no fans present. Although some teams including the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs have been reported to be exploring the idea of allowing fans to attend their home games. Perhaps their plans will set attendance rules that fit within social distancing requirements set by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.

Major League Baseball has introduced some rules changes just for the Covid-19 season. They include:

Negotiating health and safety protocols between the teams and players was difficult. Players were concerned because of Coronavirus cases spiking in many states in the Sun Belt including Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and California. Moreover, the Philadelphia Phillies reported that it had experienced a major outbreak among its players while they were still in spring training camp in Clearwater, Florida before the league suspended play. Seven players and five staff members contracted the virus.

Other players contracted the illness while the two sides were negotiating format and safety protocols.

The league agreed that players could opt out of the season. The two sides agreed that players who were considered at high risk and who opted out will still be paid their full prorated salary and retain service time for their pensions. Players who opt out because they live with individuals who are at high risk are eligible for up to 10 days of pay and service time through the Paternity List and Family Medical Emergency List. Further compensation would be up to each team. Players who committed to play the season get their full-prorated salaries.

Actually, when the players’ union’s executive board voted on the plan, including a 60-game season and an expanded, 16-team postseason, it rejected it.

The league said that the teams will still play a 60 game schedule, but it also said that it didn’t have the power to expand participation in the postseason.

As of Wednesday, July 15, players who have opted out include Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross of the Washington Nationals, Mike Leake of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ian Desmond of the Colorado Rockies, David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tyson Ross and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, Felix Hernandez and Nick Markakis of the Atlanta Braves, Michael Kopech of the Chicago White Sox, and Jordan Hicks of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Price gives up $12 million in salary this year. However, he is still owed $32 million in 2021 and 2022.

It is up to each individual team to create a bubble for the players in its hometown to ensure that players don’t catch the virus. So protocol may not be as safe as it would be if players were quarantined and play in one location for the entire season.

With teams traveling to different cities, it could be difficult to avoid players from not contracting the virus.

As of July 10th, all players and staff have been tested. There were 11,149 individuals tested. The number of positives is 83. The percentage of positives of the entire pool is .7 percent. The acceptable rate is 5 percent. Most of the positives were players and 28 of the 30 teams have a positive test.

As the league Careen towards opening day, more problems arise. The Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers have been reported to be looking for another venue other than their home stadiums to play their home games. The Coronavirus protocol in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, California are too stringent as far as the players are concerned. The protocol in both cities requires a 14 day quarantine should a player be exposed to the virus.

The season is expected to start on July 23rd.


As of July 16th, the National Football League intends to play its full schedule for the 2020 season. Games will be played at NFL stadiums throughout the country. Teams have been considering opening up their stadiums to fans. The seating capacity of stadiums will be reduced to ensure social distancing.

For example, the Baltimore Ravens play at M&T Bank Stadium, which has a capacity of 71,008 seats. Team executives say that less than 14,000 seats could be available. This could permit fans to practice social distancing as they watch a game.

The Green Bay Packers announced that it expects fans to attend games.  However, total stadium capacity at Lambeau Field will be reduced so that spectators can practice social distancing. In addition, fans are expected to wear masks or some other type of facial covering.

The National Football League said that they expect that there will have positive cases among players and team staff yet they will push on. The league promises to identify players and staff who test positive quickly and will quarantine them to ensure against spreading the virus.

In order to protect players against the virus during games, the league has been testing surgical and N95 material that could be placed on the facemask of players’ helmets.

The N95 respirator mask is said to be more effective than surgical masks. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the mask filters at least 95 percent of large and small airborne particles.

A common surgical mask is fluid resistant and protects against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily or other hazardous fluids.

The league admits that it will be difficult to protect players from the virus when play requires players to breathe on and touch each other. One possible remedy is to have the helmet’s facemask entirely covered with N95 or surgical mask material.

According to Thom Mayer, the NFL Players Association’s medical director noted that prototypes of masks have been tested with good results. He added that tests are underway to ensure that the masks won’t fog up.

Players will also be expected to wear surgical masks when not playing.

Teams have already started to practice protocols that include temperature checks, social distancing measures in and out of team facilities, and use of facemasks. Teams have also hired infection control officers.

There has been team activity during which players train on their own or in small groups and then report to the coaching staff via computer virtual remote contact.

Training camps are expected to open the third or fourth week of July. So far, two exhibition games are scheduled for each team during training camp, but that could change.

The season is expected to begin September 10th.