Baseball and women’s basketball have started, hockey and basketball will return this week, and the football season is just over a month away.
Their restarts have broad similarities. All professional leagues decided to drastically restrict or openly ban fan attendance, focusing instead on the television audience at home. All of them will repeatedly test players and staff for infections during the season.
They diverge more sharply on where the games will take place. Usually, sports with smaller roster sizes (NBA, NHL) are played in “bubbles”, isolated from the outside community, while Sports with bigger rosters (NFL, MLB) are playing in their regular stadiums and traveling between cities.
This is where each league stands in its bid to return to games.
When: Major League Baseball began its season on July 23, months after its regular start in April. The plan is to play a 60-game season that leads to an expanded playoff from September 29 to the end of October.
Where: The games will take place in the regular stadiums of the teams, without the assistance of fans.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that celebrating the season in a “bubble” would not have worked because MLB has great teams and wants to celebrate a 60-game season.
“The duration would have been much longer, and the longer you spend, the more people you have, the less likely you are to be able to make the bubble work,” he said.
In terms of play, the National League will use a designated hitter, and additional innings now start with a runner automatically in the second. The rosters have been expanded to account for potential infections, and the playoffs have been expanded to 16 teams.
Manfred played down the severity of the outbreak and said they had incorporated protocols for such an occurrence.
“I don’t put this in the nightmare category,” he said. “Obviously we don’t want any player to be exposed. It’s not a positive thing. But I don’t see it as a nightmare. We created the protocols to allow us to keep playing.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday on “Good Morning America” that baseball has yet to stop its season.
“You just have to see this. This could put him in danger. I don’t think they have to stop, but we just have to follow this and see what happens to other teams day by day,” Fauci said.
Still, the sport itself, big men bumping into each other game after game after game, remains the same.
Actual state: Dr. Allen Sills, NFL medical director and neurosurgeon, said he expected a “large number” of coronavirus cases during testing this week when training camp begins.
“Unless the players are essentially in a bubble, cut off from the community and trying them on almost every day, it would be very difficult to see how football can be played this fall,” he said. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
Where: All games will be played in a bubble at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. Players will live, practice and play within the bubble. Fans cannot attend.
Rule changes: Only 22 teams will play again. Each team will play eight regular season games before the seed playoffs begin. The NBA also added a possible play-in tournament for the eighth and final seed, but the playoffs will continue normally.
Where: All games take place in a bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. There are no fans present.
Rule changes: Players had to be quarantined before entering the bubble and will be evaluated throughout the season. Otherwise, the rules are the same as always.
Actual state: The season started successfully on Saturday and since then no player in the bubble has tested positive for coronavirus.
When: After closing in March, the National Hockey League holds its first exhibition game on Tuesday afternoon, leading to an extended playoff.
Where: The games will be held in separate “centers” in Canada, away from the public. The Eastern Conference teams will play in Toronto, while the Western Conference teams will play in Edmonton. The conference finals and the Stanley Cup final will be held in Edmonton.
Rule changes: The top four teams from each conference will play a round-robin series to decide the playoff rankings starting August 2. The other 16 teams will play in a “qualifying round” starting August 1 to decide who makes the playoffs.
From there, the first round of the playoffs begins on August 11 and lasts until October 4 at the latest.
When and where: The PGA Tour canceled several golf tournaments in March and April, but restarted its season in June and is preparing for its elders.
The PGA Championship will take place from August 6 to 9 in San Francisco, the US Open will take place from September 17 to 20 in Mamaroneck, New York, and The Masters will take place from 12 to 15 November in Augusta, Georgia.
When: Tennis planned to restart its season with the Citi Open tournament on August 14 in Washington DC, but the event was canceled. Instead, the US Open, one of the most important events in tennis, will take place from August 31.
Rule changes: No fans will be allowed on site. The men’s and women’s doubles events will also be smaller, with 32 teams instead of 64.
Actual state: On the way, for now, although the cancellation of the Citi Open offers warnings about the possibility of holding the US Open.
When: Major League Soccer returned with its “MLS is Back” tournament earlier this month. The group stage began on July 8, and the 16-team knockout tournament began last Saturday and continues through to the championship game on August 11.
Where: All games are held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Actual state: In progress. Two teams, FC Dallas and Nashville, do not participate in the tournament due to outbreaks of coronavirus. The tournament is currently finishing its first round and advancing to the quarterfinals on July 30.