The Warriors had been eliminated from playoff consideration. The longer the layoff, the greater the chance the NBA, should it resume, will move straight to some sort of playoff. Nobody knows what sort. Nobody knows if it will be staged, as has been posited, entirely in Las Vegas. What’s taken for granted: Fans won’t be allowed.
The NHL considered staging its Stanley Cup playoffs in, of all places, Grand Forks, N.D. It's now working on a plan involving four hub league cities. It has announced nothing definitive.
In another of its periodic trial balloons, MLB floated the Arizona Bubble — a 4 ½-month season played in/around Phoenix with 30 teams quarantined in hotels. Later reports have focused on hubs in Arizona, Florida and Texas, with 10 teams in each locale. One rumor has baseball skipping its regular season and moving to a months-long 30-team tournament. (Which would be silly. Then again, this is MLB.) As ESPN's Jeff Passan reported, commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a letter to employees last week: "It is very difficult to predict with any accuracy the timeline for the resumption of our season."
Nobody in sports has said as much out loud, but every league is surely waiting to see what will happen with the first batch of state reopenings. Will the predicted-by-some second wave of the virus hit two-to-four weeks hence? Would another round of sheltering in place be triggered? There’s no sense in starting, or restarting, a season if you’re not sure you can keep your players healthy enough to complete it. And, there being no COVID-19 vaccine, can anyone be sure of anything?
The NBA and NHL need to decide something by Memorial Day. If they wait any longer, they risk having two seasons compromised — the one on hold and the next one, too. MLB can be more patient: As reported by USA Today's Bob Nightengale, it could start around the Fourth of July, play 100 games and hold the World Series in November. (MLS is in a similar position.) Owing to the calendar, the league with the most wiggle room is the NFL. It can hold out deep into summer before finalizing a plan, though the plan could look much like what the other leagues are moving toward already — games without fans.
As for college sports: It remains unthinkable for schools to allow athletes to gather and travel and compete if campuses are closed for the fall. It remains unthinkable that, without a vaccine, those athletes would be asked to play in front of crowds of 80,000-plus, and what’s the point of college football if the Color & Pageantry is a backdrop of empty seats? As Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb said recently, “The pros are different. They can get away with being a TV sport.”
The longer this goes, the more the possibility becomes a probability. The PGA tour is set to restart in June minus fans. The Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C., is hoping to run on Memorial Day sans spectators. Two different sports, one common theme.
Seven weeks after our games were halted, we see a few signs of stirring. Only a few, though, and if MLB teams are readying to hand back ticket money they’d banked, it’s a powerful indication of where we’re headed.