On Wednesday, Dr. Jeffrey Smith, the executive officer of Santa Clara County, California told the Los Angeles Times that he didn’t expect “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”
No games until … Thanksgiving?
Many things are still unknown about the coronavirus pandemic. Massive progress could be made that greatly improves timetables and projections. Yet Smith’s words and power represent a significant challenge for professional sports to return — the NFL in particular.
In recent days and weeks, a few rough proposals have leaked concerning the NBA, NHL and MLB.
Each of them are at least considering trying to move their entire league to a single site, city or region. This would, conceivably, create some kind of virus-free bubble for players, team officials and referees so games could be staged without fans for television purposes.
For the NBA, maybe it is the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which has an arena attached. For the NHL, it’s the possibility of sparsely populated, yet rink-rich, North Dakota. For MLB, it’s the greater Phoenix area, that has numerous stadiums due to so many teams holding spring training in the area.
Each of these presents incredible logistical challenges, including requiring advances in testing and treatment (even without a vaccine). Who knows if they are doable.
“Nothing’s been ruled in,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Nothing’s been ruled out.”
Nothing wrong with considering everything. That’s what every business should be doing right now.
It’s clear that those leagues are wary of trying to do business as usual, namely traveling and staging games, even without fans, all over the place in traditional markets. If nothing else, you’d need every city, county and state (and in the NBA, NHL and MLB’s case even Canada) to buy in and sanction it.
One Santa Clara County could upend things. A few of them follow and it becomes infeasible. Why else try to even game plan out something as monumental as moving an entire baseball season to Arizona?
The NFL has had no such concept leak, probably because it would appear unworkable. It may be able to stage a season, just not that way. It’s one less option it has to consider.
The central location concept would seem best suited for the NBA, then the NHL. Each would need maybe only two months to hold its playoffs. MLB, with bigger rosters and attempting a four- or five-month regular season of sorts (albeit with 7-inning games) would seem less possible, at least at first glance.
Football teams however are huge, 53 players on an active roster, plus a small practice squad. Just the coaching staff (not counting athletic trainers, equipment personnel and so on) can rival the size of NHL and MLB teams. You can’t stuff the league into a couple of hotels.
Is there a city, or even a state, where you could stage 16 games a weekend, with NFL-suitable turf and facilities? Texas, with its many college and high school facilities is conceivable, but will all those schools even want that?
That’s just game day. A baseball season is mostly a never-ending run of games. Even basketball has limited practices. Football is as much about what happens during the week as on Sunday.
There is no way to create 32 separate NFL-level facilities, with indoor practice fields, meeting space, technological capacity, weight rooms, proper physical therapy and everything else. Besides, the season alone would be, at minimum, five-plus months (playoffs included).
The sport doesn’t seem to work for the single-site dream.
That doesn’t mean the season is doomed. Continued progress, possibly exponential, in all ways can happen. It’s only April. There is time and plenty of smart people working on this.
Get that done, and all those county commissioners and state governors might agree to have a season, with or without fans.
It just seems like the NFL, unlike its peers, doesn’t have a single-site, pipe-dream Plan B to fall back on.
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