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What’s next for North America’s ‘Big Four’ sports leagues?

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Athletic events have all but disappeared amidst the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, leaving fans, players, coaches, and multi-billion dollar operations in limbo.

Will there be a return to relative normalcy any time soon? Or will sporting in Canada and the United States remain on indefinite hiatus for the foreseeable future?

The NBA was the first North American professional sports league to publicly deal with COVID-19 when Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive brining massive American media attention to the issue. The NBA’s 74th regular season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 11, with teams having played between 63 and 67 games of their respective 82 game schedules. Before the season’s suspension, the playoffs were set to begin on April 18, and were to extend until June.

The NBA maintains the regular season suspension is “temporary” and has officially stated, “[it] intends to resume the season, pending further developments related to the pandemic.”

With the newly-lengthened social distancing guidelines in the US, play legally can’t begin anytime before May 1.

Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Shark Tank star Mark Cuban optimistically predicted the season could re-start as soon as mid-May.

But according to ESPN, executives are bracing for a mid- to late-June return, in the best case scenario.

Numerous players from a variety of teams have tested positive for coronavirus in the last month.

On the ice the NHL’s regular season was suspended the day after the NBA’s, on March 12. Teams had played between 68 to 71 games of their respective 82 game schedules. The playoffs were set to kick off the week of April 6, with Lord Stanley’s cup being passed from the Commissioner to the winning team’s captain in early June.

When the league announced the suspension a few weeks ago, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus…the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019-20 season…” (Emphasis added).

Going on to say, “Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”

NHL sources have said that the delay of the Tokyo Olympics could allow the league to finish its season this summer (now that a window has been opened up for sports programming on NBC prime time).

According to John Shipley of the Pioneer Press, “League sources said the NHL is looking to a possible return of regular-season games in July, with the postseason moving into the fall”, adding that, “the NHL has vowed to play a full 82-game schedule in 2020-21 whether this season resumes or not.”

The new entry draft was set to take place on June 26-27 in Montreal, but has been vaguely postponed to a later date.

Meanwhile, the Major League Baseball’s 2020 season was put on pause before it even started.

On March 12, the league cancelled spring training and postponed all regular season games for two weeks, before extending the suspension indefinitely.

The regular season was supposed to begin on March 26.

Per the New York Times, “…some officials hold out hope of opening the season by the middle of May, starting around Memorial Day (May 25) or early June.” But according to Dan Martin of the New York Post, recent state-level measures to extend social distancing make any start date before mid-June “highly unlikely”.

Back on March 16, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “…the commitment of the clubs is to play as many baseball games in 2020 as we can, consistent with the safety of our players and our fans.”

The entire season being cancelled does not appear to be out of the question.

Last Friday, players and owners from around the league ratified a deal that stipulated, should no games be played at all this year, players would not have to pay back advanced salary and would receive the same service time as earned in 2019.

The draft has been moved to an undetermined date in July.

Football fans hold up some hope that their beloved sport won’t be impacted by the outbreak. The NFL’s pre-season is set to start August 6. While the regular season is scheduled to begin September 10.

As of yet, there is no indication that the league intends to delay the late-summer start date, with the draft also set to proceed as scheduled at the end of April (however, virtually online instead of in-person).

According to Bleacher Report, the NFL will likely release it’s 2020/21 regular season schedule in May.

The NFL draft is still scheduled for April 23-25.

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