The Analysis of Sports Amidst COVID-19

After a long and argumentative time span in May and June, the NBA and MLB have concluded that the season will resume in the month of July.

For the majority of sports fans, it is a pleasure and a sign of hope that sports will finally be on television again. For the opposite side of the scale, there is reasonable doubt, as well as reasonable concern, for the continuation of sports.

In a world that seems to change relentlessly on a daily basis, the sports scene is certainly no exception and the above-average sports fan has certainly been starving for some sort of entertainment on television.

For a while, there was a considerable crowd that was highly invested in “The Last Dance” documentary, which then transitioned into a less than entertaining golf match between all-time rivals of Tom Brady vs. Payton Manning and Tiger Woods vs. Phil Michelson. Even though these two isolated programs attracted a considerable crowd, the background of the continuation of sports was still up in the air.

Fast forward to late June when Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred reached an agreement with the MLB Players Association to play a 60-game season in specified, semi-neutral locations to minimize travel. Similarly, the NBA reached an agreement to colonize the since-abandoned Walt Disney World to accommodate the players and their respective staff.

The NHL has released a schedule in which the remainder of the season – including the postseason – will be played without any solidified ramifications or logistics of how, when, or where the games will be played. Lastly, the NFL is still up in the air in regards to gameplay, although the presence of fans crowding into a stadium seems highly unlikely.

Essentially, I would like to analyze the intent and the possible outcomes of sports returning in the disastrous year that is 2020.

In a year where a pandemic was not plaguing the entire planet, the average sports fan would be just finishing the NHL and NBA postseasons and beginning to get a feel for their current MLB team before the all-star break to identify any changes that may need to be made to make a playoff run. Additionally, that same average sports fan is more than likely already thinking about football, imagining the outcome of the team they support after all the final trades and personnel changes have been made. Maybe they’d even be pooling the final contestants in the annual fantasy football league.

In 2020, baseball seemed nonexistent given that the peak of the epidemic and shelter-in-place orders began on what would have been opening day for several different programs, but furthermore, the climax of the NHL and NBA seasons was about to be in full swing.

Having said that, the question then becomes “If a franchise were to win a championship this season, what will be recorded in history?”

In my observation of the NBA, the season will resume. But there have been several players – even all-star players in fact – that have contracted the disease and are absolutely subject to miss a portion of this season. That will then affect a coaching strategy going forward; not to mention the health and wellbeing of the other players and staff.

Hypothetically, if the Lakers were to finish the remainder of what would be the 2019-2020 season as champions, this season would be the first dynamic of its kind and will be deserving of an “outlier” distinction. This same paradigm applies for the NHL and even more so for baseball given that the season will be played with less than half as many games as a normal season.

Is that deserving championship prestige? I believe history will decide.

Going further, sports have a tendency to bring everyone together. Not just by the overwhelming support for a team or an individual, but entertainment of any kind can cause the looming sensation of melancholy and cabin fever to subside while the game is on.

In that aspect, I cannot wait to be surrounded by sports and the culture alike again. I miss the premise of sitting down with my friends and loved ones and watching a sports game or match. Perhaps even more so, I miss those conversations I have with others about a terrible umpire, an astounding home run, a near-impossible three-pointer, or a rapid-paced power play that can seem to make any problem feel small.

However, sports in that respect are still just a game, but the athletes and the coaches involved in these games are real. In other words, these teams and individuals supporting these teams will be at risk, no matter what safety precautions are put in place.

COVID-19 did not by any means disappear, and will more than likely be amongst the populous of the United States for a lot longer than most are prepared for, especially me. I would rather remain in the comfort of my own home watching the same shows and highlight reels in perpetuity than sacrifice the health or safety of any athlete.

With more athletes testing positive for COVID-19, I am still under the impression that the beginning or resuming of sports this summer is still into question, and if gameplay were to resume, I will remain hopeful that everyone stays safe.

Why The Patriots’ Next QB is Primed for Success

From a Patriots fan’s perspective, the mutual decision to move on from Tom Brady felt like a bad breakup with your high school crush. The GOAT played his entire twenty-year career with the New England Patriots, where he was symbiotically paired with the greatest coach of all time.

The relationship visibly soured, as arguments between Brady and the coaching staff and teammates became a typical Sunday. Even with tensions running abnormally high in the Patriots locker room, it still seems inconceivable that Brady would set out to search for greener pastures elsewhere.

The climate brought upon the 2020 season by COVID-19 could perpetuate this notion that there truly was a disconnect between Brady and his young receivers last season. This also may ring a bit more true than the fanbase’s favorite narrative of “oh Tommy’s too old” or “Tommy can’t throw the longball anymore” as the reason why he was not re-signed.

The Patriots, as a team, could be better off with transitioning to Jarrett Stidham this season than they would in another year with the GOAT.

One doesn’t need to speculate on the benefits of having crowds attend games. Having home crowd noise is an undoubtedly big part of a game; so much that the Falcons were fined for pumping in artificial crowd noise during games in 2015.

The likelihood of playing the 2020 NFL season without fans is becoming more realistic by the day, but the lack of noise can help some players establish a rapport with their teammates. Young players in particular will be able to settle with a given team’s offensive schemes and packages quicker.

Establishing communication with a new offense in a sterile environment can only work in Jarrett Stidham’s favor. Having the sport in its purest form as a young player can open up avenues for communication, and can allow for a clean exchange after the snap.

While he isn’t Tom Brady, Stidham can be a sufficient pocket passer. Having a good defense can cover up some offensive blemishes, but having strong communication needs to be a tenant of an effective offensive plan. Some young blood at the QB position can open up the offense. Although Brady seemed to struggle with communication with his young receivers in 2019, a fresh start with a young QB can make a huge difference for the 2020 season.

Baseball’s Ability to Shine in the COVID-19 Era

Like many others, I am an ardent fan of the game and I wish to see it return in some capacity this year. Even though I want to see baseball played, I can’t help but think that there are various geopolitical issues surrounding this pandemic and the proposed plans by MLB.

Each affected area has a unique position that they must deal with, and playing baseball in each of these affected areas has the potential to go south, very quickly.

Baseball has the opportunity to be in a position in which it hasn’t been in for decades: it can unite our country in a time of need.  The sport has the ability to be a driving force for the return of commerce (in some capacity) to our economy. While the idea of an untraditional season is intriguing, we need to have the utmost caution before returning to play. The proposed plans for the Florida-Arizona season might be our best shot at returning to play, but it needs to be modified. 

These globalized commercial areas in the Northeast (like New York and Boston) are why this virus spread so quickly, and why certain areas have been hit so hard. These areas’ economies and cultures are incredibly globalized, and have dense populations that rely on others for transportation, employment, and food. This undoubtedly is one of the many reasons why there was an uptick in these urban areas, and the person-to-person contacts commonly associated with living in an urban area is what makes dealing with this pandemic in an urbanized setting so difficult.

The plan to return baseball to teams’ home cities is not the answer.

Traveling amidst the pandemic is the largest issue surrounding a return to play… Players can’t be expected to bounce from potential hotspot to hotspot throughout the season, even at a lesser rate than a normal season. Players would inevitably opt-out and forgo their contracts and sit out the season if they think they or their families are put in harm’s way, which will have a ripple effect throughout the sport.

As we saw with Blake Snell’s recent comments, players are feeling apprehensive about returning to play. Aside from financials, health will remain the priority. If All-Star caliber players opt to sit out, what would be the point of having a season at all?

Baseball can be played in 2020, but how can we have a season without putting players in harm’s way? 

In terms of the game played between the foul lines, this season has the opportunity to be an experimental one. 

I have long been a dissident of “robot umpires,” but I think in light of this situation it would be the right call (pun intended). 

With robot umpires, it would mean that there is one less person on the field, and the person-to-person contact with players and outsiders would be minimized. The contact between the catcher and umpire would be eliminated completely; it would be one less avenue for infection to spread while the umpires could still maintain their jobs and perform remotely from the booth.

Another change that I have vehemently opposed in the past is the universal DH. With a tight timeframe for the season, it is imperative that managers have the capacity to make personnel changes with their players’ bodies in mind. While some NL teams would be at an immediate disadvantage compared to AL teams with currently established DH hitters, having the flexibility roster-wise would outweigh any drawbacks from roster issues. 

In addition to the universal DH, expanded rosters should be in play. The need to fill a roster spot with a minor leaguer who had to travel to camp would be a big question mark amidst this crisis, so having a reserve squad training and isolating with the major league team would be necessary. 

The biggest of the many challenges that baseball faces in 2020 lies in determining where the season should be played. Having a season outside of teams’ home ballparks is a strange concept, but if there aren’t fans in attendance, why risk having players travel?

If baseball is to be played this season, it needs to be at a localized facility with multiple fields that can be used simultaneously. A rural complex with ample infrastructure in the form of hospitals and hotels located in a warm area is crucial if a season is to be played. If the MLB can find a site that has the ability to host an entire league, it can be a great way to pump some revenue into a local economy. Even though aiding a localized economy would only be the tip of the iceberg in this crisis, the league could pave the way for other major sports to finish their leagues.

Before any game is to be played, players would need to isolate for 2-3 weeks prior to preseason training. If early July is circled on everyone’s calendar, this plan needs to be hashed out posthaste.