This is a very strange time in history. It is odd to have a time when there are no sports playing.
Normally, we would have the NCAA Men’s and Women’s basketball tournaments narrowing down the brackets in March Madness. The National Hockey League (NHL) would be in the final stretch of the regular season. The National Basketball Association (NBA) would also be in their final part of the regular season. Major League Baseball (MLB) would be nearing the end of Spring Training and getting ready for opening day. Major League Soccer (MLS) would also be playing at this time as well as other sports leagues.
Now there is nothing playing and we don’t really know when they will start again or what kind of season will be played.
The Coronavirus pandemic has significantly altered sports. Even the Summer Olympics in Tokyo have now been postponed until next year.
With these stoppages, I have wondered about other times sports leagues had to cease due to a national emergency. Except for labor strikes, here are the last times leagues had to stop playing:
Major League Baseball
The September 11th terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. pushed the end of the regular-season from September 30 to October 7. Because of the attack, the World Series was not completed until November 4. The 2001 World Series was the first to end in November.
National Football League
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, the NFL’s week 2 games (September 16 and 17) were postponed and rescheduled to the weekend of January 6 and January 7. In order to retain the full playoff format, all playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXVI, were rescheduled one week later.
National Hockey League
The 1919 season ended early with Toronto suspending operations, leaving Montreal and Ottawa to play off for the championship. Montreal would win the playoff and travel to Seattle for the Stanley Cup final. However, the Cup series would not be completed due to the Spanish Flu infecting the whole Montreal team and causing the eventual death of Montreal’s Joe Hall.
National Basketball Association
Major League Soccer
So for many of these leagues, this is the first time they have had to deal with a national emergency. Although it is uncertain when they will play again, here are some tentative plans when they restart:
MLB: Since there will be no games or organized workouts for at least the next eight weeks, it’s almost certain this season will start no sooner than Memorial Day. That leaves only about 120 days for regular-season games if the current postseason format remains intact, unless there is an appetite for pushing the World Series well into November.
NFL: The pandemic has not yet impacted the upcoming 2020 schedule at this time however last week, the National Football League announced that all public events in Las Vegas were canceled but that event scheduled for Apr. 23 through Apr. 25 was still on track.
NHL: The league is intent on crowning a Stanley Cup Champion but unsure how the season will be finished. The league will most likely finish the season and bump the season to finish later. So the Stanley Cup final could possibly be in July.
NBA: According to ESPN, the season could be extended into September in order to determine a winner, rather than cancelling it. It’s not clear how that would affect the start of the 2020-2021 NBA season.
MLS: The league announced on Thursday that it was extending the suspension of all matches, with a target return date of May 10.
If I were in charge of these leagues, I would probably do the following:
NBA: When they resume, I would go directly to the playoffs with expanding the playoff field from eight to 13 teams in each conference with the division winners getting a bye in the first round. The first round could be a best-of-three series. The expanded field of teams should be able to cover teams who were still in playoff contention when the season was suspended.
NHL: Much like the NBA suggestion above, I would go directly to the postseason and also expand the playoff field. I would expand to 12 teams per conference with the division winners receiving a first round bye. The first round could be a three or five game series.
MLB: I would pack as many double-headers as possible into the schedule. I would see no need to change the postseason format.
It will definitely be interesting to see how things will work out once play is resumed. I anticipate that the leagues will see a surge of viewers after being deprived during this time of lock downs.
Sports will eventually return. Let’s all be patient and take every precaution to avoid spreading the virus.