Major League Baseball ran into more than a few growing pains when it began its abbreviated slate of games over the summer but has managed to battle through as the playoffs continue to unfold. The NFL and NCAA have also been forced to grapple with a number of outbreaks (and the ensuing postponements) after football season kicked off around a month ago, but thankfully, things haven’t totally gone off of the rails just yet.
It’s hard to blame either league for not resorting to the bubble strategy that was used by the NBA and NHL to play out the remainder of their schedules, as the logistics of constructing one and the infeasibility of forcing players to be isolated for a full season made it a fairly unrealistic approach to the current situation (although the NFL is reportedly considering pivoting to it as more and more cases continue to be reported).
Any doubt surrounding the effectiveness of the secure environments constructed by the two leagues that turned to them as a solution was essentially dismissed after the resounding success of those experiments, and even though it turned out to be a fantastic short-term solution, it also resulted in some long-term ramifications when you consider the playoffs wrapped up (or, in the case of the NBA, are about to) around the same time they usually kick off their regular season.
Adam Silver has decided to wait until the Finals wrap up before turning his attention to the next campaign, but after the Lightning took home the Stanley Cup a little over a week ago, Gary Bettman opted to reveal the NHL’s plan during the league’s draft on Tuesday, saying it’s currently aiming to get back into action on January 1, 2021 and is planning on playing a full 82-game season.
There are plenty of details that still need to be figured out, as a league-wide bubble seems to be totally out of the question. However, there is a chance isolated “pods” could still be established (presumably based on division or geographic proximity). It’s also unclear when training camp will commence but teams are expected to be given at least two weeks to gear up for the season.
It’ll be especially interesting to see how prepared players will be when the season begins, as only 24 of the league’s 31 teams were invited to Toronto and Edmonton, meaning members of the squads who were left out have been out of action since the middle of March. At the same time, the franchises that made deep playoff runs could theoretically be at a disadvantage considering the comparatively short amount of time they’ll have to rest but only time will tell if 10 months of rust or three to five months of rest will be a bigger factor.
The NHL has also neglected to address the fan element, but unless the current situation changes dramatically, it’s hard to imagine it’ll be in a huge rush to welcome back spectators to watch games in enclosed spaces with open arms. With that said, the league did a phenomenal job replicating the typical gameday experience in the bubble considering the circumstances (in addition to showcasing a fantastically self-aware sense of humor).
The revenue issue that forced the AHL to call off its season entirely certainly isn’t an insignificant factor but it appears teams will be willing to bear that burden in order to give the people what they want.