Though the calendar has turned over from 2020 to a new year, much uncertainty still remains in our daily lives and what the coming year will look like. That precariousness extends to Major League Baseball, coming off only a 60-game season without fans due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But while there have been previous reports suggesting that the start of the upcoming season could once again be delayed, a recent story from Evan Drellich of The Athletic submits that unless there are government restrictions preventing baseball from being played in Florida and Arizona, that Spring Training will begin on time as scheduled in February.
A statement from MLB:
“We have announced the dates for the start of Spring Training and the Championship Season. As we get closer we will, in consultation with public health authorities, our medical experts, and the Players Association, determine whether any modifications should be considered in light of the current surge in COVID-19 cases and the challenges we faced in 2020 completing a 60-game season in a sport that plays every day.”
Drellich writes that after the contentious negotiations that brought about the shortened 2020 campaign, “the players have been clear they won’t agree to delay the 2021 season if it means a major drop in player pay.” While the owners have proposed some delayed schedules that include pay cuts for players, they also want to limit the amount of games without fans in attendance. The league and owners do not have the right to unilaterally alter the season unless the are significant government restrictions which could invoke the sport’s national emergency clause, but the most likely scenario right now is that both sides operate within the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement and begin work on-time for a 162 game season.
From the Player’s Association:
“As we’ve made clear to the league on multiple occasions, we expect Spring Training and the Regular Season to start on time and as scheduled, consistent with our CBA. The league does not have the authority or legal basis to unilaterally delay or shorten the schedule without Players’ consent. While there will continue to be challenges, our Players have proven they can safely play a season under difficult circumstances, as have the other sports. The Commissioner’s Office has assured us that they have instructed the Clubs to prepare for an on time start.”
On the ownership side of things, a delay until May has been posited as it would allow additional time for vaccine distribution around the country. They also foresee issues like what’s happened in the NFL, where the Browns recently had to close their facility several times due to COVID. The Players, though, see the other sports going through their seasons as proof that the schedule can be played. If the other sports aren’t waiting for a vaccine, why should MLB?
Drellich goes on to discuss other potential challenges to the 2021 campaign, but closes with this:
Ultimately, the league and the players will always have the ability to modify the 2021 schedule, in spring training or otherwise. Outbreaks could always force their hands after the fact. But for now, discussions of what’s optimal or ideal miss the bottom line: There’s a plan in place for the 2021 season, and there are high standards for that plan to change without a new agreement.