By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and as the start of the NBA training camp nears, more players are being tested for COVID-19 in preparation for the bubble in Orlando. As a result, a host of high-profile players have tested positive, including superstar center Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. Multiple members of the Sacramento Kings and guard Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers have also reportedly tested positive. All parties are said to be in good health. Still, the sudden surge of positive tests across the NBA landscape highlights the sheer difficulty maintaining a safe playing environment will be for the NBA.
Once the teams are reassembled and training camp begins, the possibility of an outbreak within a roster will only heighten. It is safe to assume the NBA has accounted for this possibility occurring either in training camp or once regular or playoff games are transpiring. However, the league’s plan is unknown. Likely, a team will simply be forced into a self-isolation quarantine for two weeks at some point during the NBA’s resumed season. If–or when–this happens, even with a plan in place, the delicate nature of this unprecedented venture by the NBA will be tested.
As expected, the MLB owners and MLBPA failed to reach an agreement on terms for the 2020 season. The result is that commissioner Rob Manfred has instituted a 60-game regular season. At present, the MLB regular season set to begin on July 23 and 24, less than a month away. The regular season is expected to run to September 27, with the playoffs lasting through October as usual. This entire situation continues to be up in the air, and much like the NBA, MLB runs the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak within a locker room that could alter plans in a drastic way.
Currently, it appears MLB’s aim will be for teams to play teams within their geographic division, limiting the need for excessive travel. Obviously, this is a wise move in regard to limiting the potential to contract and spread COVID-19 within baseball. However, it hardly eliminates the possibility. Also, as far as on-field results go, multiple teams will be at a sudden disadvantage, most obviously teams in the NL East that will now have to square off against the AL East a disproportionate number of times compared to a traditional schedule.
There was speculation of MLB embracing an expanded playoff format for the 2020 season, going from 10 teams to 16 teams. Unfortunately, that has not been finalized at present, though the notion remains a possibility. The league is likely to make a hard ruling one way or the other soon. Owners have to be hoping for the increased revenue associated with expanded playoffs, while players have to like the idea of having a greater chance of competing for the World Series championship.
Several rule changes will be implemented for the 2020 season, most prominently implementing a universal designated hitter across both leagues. This has long been debated, and frankly, unlike most other rule changes, this one will likely stick around for the long haul. For players, it creates 15 more high-paying full-time DH gigs in the National League while also eliminating the need for pitchers to risk injury.
Unlikely to last beyond the 2020 season is a change made to extra-inning baseball. This season, each inning after the ninth will start with a runner on second base. Obviously, this will have a massive impact on extra-inning games, with a runner starting the frame in scoring position being a game-changing move. There is an argument for simply implementing ties for the 2020 season after ten or eleven innings would have been a solution more in the spirit of baseball. Still, this change should present plenty of exciting finishes this season, provided there ends up being a season.