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Armour: How Will Sports Leagues put Schedules Back Together After Coronavirus Hiatus?

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An empty soccer field in New York City’s Riverside Park on Friday. Photo: Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

By Nancy Armour |

Ever done one of those 2,500-piece jigsaw puzzles? Imagine doing four or five of them simultaneously, and trying to link them all together. That’s the equivalent of what leaders of shuttered sports — which is pretty much all of them at this point — have to look forward to when our fun and games finally resume.

With the Centers for Disease Control now recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more should be avoided for the next eight weeks, our sports aren’t coming back anytime soon. The second week of May, at best.

Eventually, though, life will return to normal. But the longer sports are on hiatus, the more difficult the task of resuming becomes. That’s because it’s no longer about simply picking up where we left off.

For starters, let’s take the players. The NBA and NHL are nearing the ends of their seasons, while Major League Baseball, MLS and NWSL were in the midst of training camps. But with a two-month layoff — at least — all of them will essentially be starting over.

Some of the players were initially allowed to work out at their team facilities, but even those are now shutting down. The NHL on Monday even told its players they could return to their offseason homes, a sign the league expects all of its operations to go dark.

Sure, with the exception of maybe Phil Mickelson, athletes will be working out on their own. Many have gyms right in their homes. But there’s a difference between being in shape and being in game shape, and every sport will need training camps, even if they’re abbreviated ones, before they can resume play.

In theory, camps could be held during the period the CDC has cautioned against large group gatherings, so play can resume as soon as those eight weeks conclude. But even if you’re only counting a regular-season roster, coaches and support staff, you’re going to be getting close to 50 people. Teams would have to get creative of who’s allowed where and when, but it’s doable.

That brings us to the schedule.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said last week that the NBA could play deep into July, even into August, if necessary.

“The only reason we haven’t played games after June 12 in the past is because of TV partners,” Cuban said during an appearance on ESPN’s Get Up on Thursday. “The households using television in the summer drop significantly. Well, the TV landscape has changed dramatically in the last three years, four years. And so those numbers and those equations have all changed significantly.”

But it’s not as easy as simply copying the current schedule and pasting it onto a new month.

While the professional teams usually have preference when it comes to blocking out dates, and definitely do if they own the building, arenas and stadiums host hundreds of events each year that have nothing to do with sports. Concerts. Rodeos. Speakers. More concerts. Conferences. More concerts.

If you look at the Staples Center lineup, for example, Celine Dion, Camila Cabello, Janet Jackson, The Weeknd and The Lumineers all have concerts scheduled between now and the end of August. Eight acts are booked for Wrigley Field this summer. There are six concerts scheduled at the TD Garden between July 10 and July 23.

Now, depending on what the NBA decides to do with the schedule – play all remaining games, shorten the rest of the regular season or go right into the playoffs – some arenas will free up pretty quickly, limiting potential conflicts. (Looking at you, Madison Square Garden.)

But others are occupied by multiple teams.

The Staples Center is home to the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks. The Kings probably won’t make the playoffs, but the Lakers and the Clippers will, with both likely to make deep runs. The WNBA season is supposed to start May 15.

See what I mean about jigsaw puzzles?

“I just wonder if this provides a perfect opportunity to sync up where the WNBA is our first game and the NBA is the second game,” suggested Terri Jackson, executive director of the WNBAPA. “Look, that sounds like a terrific idea to me and could be the good thing and positive thing that comes out of this.”

We haven’t even gotten to the biggest potential headache, which is at the Fiserv Forum.

Fiserv is home to the Milwaukee Bucks, which have the best record in the NBA and are a good bet to make the NBA Finals. But Fiserv is also hosting the Democratic National Convention from July 13-16, and the arena will have to be shuttered several days beforehand for setup and security checks.

The Bucks haven’t made the Finals since 1974, and the last thing the team – and the city – want is to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. playing for a title in someone else’s building. But even if the Bucks have preference at Fiserv, this isn’t like asking Taylor Swift to reschedule a tour date.

More than 7,000 delegates and 20,000 media members are expected for the DNC. Hotel rooms in Milwaukee, and beyond, have been booked for almost a year. Ditto for event space.

The Republican National Convention is at Spectrum Center, home of the Charlotte Hornets. But it doesn’t begin until Aug. 24 and, even if the NBA is still playing, the hapless Hornets most certainly will not be.  

All of this is a logistical nightmare in the making, with no easy solutions. It’ll still be better than our current nightmare, though, because at least we’ll have our sports back.

Gabe Lacques, Mark Medina and Jeff Zillgitt contributed to this report. 

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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