Negotiations continue between the MLBPA and owners for a deal to play the 2020 season. It’s still tense after the most recent proposal, with some owners believing the meeting between Rob Manfred and Tony Clark was the agreement for the new season. As this continues to be sorted out, the reality of the current pandemic is still hitting around the country.
Several different teams have been affected with new cases of COVID-19, with most coming out of Florida. The most recent one is from the Philadelphia Phillies complex, where eight people (five players and three staff) have tested positive. In addition, the virus has spread to families of these players and staff. In the same report, it’s noted that a player in the Toronto Blue Jays system also has tested positive. Both camps have been shut down for now as the teams evaluate the extent of the outbreaks.
This also isn’t isolated to MLB. In the NHL, a team also closed their facility after three players and two staff tested positive as well (the team was undisclosed at first, but reports came out that it was the Tampa Bay Lightning). In MLS, five players from five different teams have tested positive so far. Also, in the NFL, an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tested positive and two other coaches have been quarantined. Because of how infectious it is, the only choice most of the time is to shut down the facilities until the full extent can be determined, which generally takes at least two weeks.
Many people want sports to return. The teams are losing massive amounts of money while shut down, no matter what side you look at it from. Players, ownership, team staff, everyone is missing out on pay while they are shut down. While some teams are doing what they can to pay their staff during the pandemic, there is not a limitless supply of cash and they need to play again at some point to bring in liquid revenue.
Other leagues can be looked at for an idea on how a return could look. In Korea, the KBO was one of the first leagues in the world to resume play, and so far, they’ve been able to continue playing. However, their league & country also implemented some strict guidelines, such as mandatory quarantines when entering the country, required tracing apps on phones, mask wearing, regular temperature checks, etc. While they’ve been successful, a lack of fans is hurting them significantly, and teams are facing financial struggles if they can’t bring fans in again. The Chinese Professional Baseball League has also been playing for a few months, and the Nippon Baseball League began playing games today.
Meanwhile, in the US, sports mostly remain shut down. NASCAR has been allowed to resume, though with empty stands and only at a few racetracks. Smaller sports leagues are also starting up, though in much smaller contexts. For baseball, the American Association with the Milwaukee Milkmen is set to begin play on July 3 with a six-team league based out of three hub cities. Also in Wisconsin, the Northwoods League is also starting up with three smaller regional leagues happening. North Dakota has a three-team league that is currently playing games, Michigan will be starting a six-team league on July 1, and Wisconsin-Illinois will also be starting a six-team league the same day. Unfortunately not all of the Wisconsin teams can compete (Madison Mallards, Lakeshore Chinooks, and Kenosha Kingfish are currently not playing), but their league page mentions other Wisconsin teams may be added after the first two weeks of the season.
Other leagues are also in talks to resume play, but how to do that is still up in the air. As the NBA plans to restart, one new accessory they are utilizing is an “Oura ring”. The ring will be able to monitor players’ health metrics and detect if a player has symptoms of COVID-19 with 95% accuracy. The ring will be optional for all players, so it remains to be seen how many will elect to wear this.
As for MLB, there have been discussions about how to restart the league safely. Just over a month ago, a 67-page document was released to teams on how to safely play. The document included many regulations, including 10,000 tests per day, several temperature checks per player per day, mask wearing, distancing between people, even down to smaller details such as restrictions on physical contact and no spitting. While the details were very specific, how to actually implement this is a much greater feat, and may require too much time to get implemented for a season to take place.
It’s clear that most people want sports to return, and there’s many reasons to want to see games played again. Teams and people need the money financially, it’s a psychological boost for players and fans to be playing again, and it would provide a bit more of normal in the chaos of the current world. At some point, a return will have to be addressed. Even if the safest course of action is determined to be canceling the 2020 MLB season completely, it will have to be revisited next year. Shutdowns and restrictions can’t continue indefinitely. MLB will return, but here is the question that remains: What will it look like when it does come back?