Column: Sports virus grades are in, at least for midterms
It’s been three months and a few days since Adam Silver pulled the plug on NBA games, the first domino in a long row of events to fall to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Enough time for Silver and leaders of other major sports to take stock of the new enemy and the dangers it poses. Enough time to begin sorting out a path back to what will surely be a new normal.
They've now got a body of work to analyze, and it's a mixed bag. Though nothing could really prepare those in charge of the country's major sports for the ravages of the pandemic, some have risen to the challenge better than others.
With that in mind, here are the pandemic grades — let’s be optimistic and call them midterms — for commissioners who have been forced to write a new playbook:
The NFL commissioner might have scored higher had we been grading earlier. He not only pulled off a virtual draft but was a surprise hit hosting the proceedings from his basement somewhere outside New York City. The real test is just starting, though, with a season looming and two glittering new stadiums set to open at a time when no one knows how many fans — if any — will be let inside. The NFL has so far been sparing in its details on how it will handle a new season, and reports of a number of players already testing positive for the virus don’t bode well for a sport that is more difficult to manage than others just because of the sheer size of the teams.
The bottom line is, no one really knows if the NFL season will actually begin as scheduled less than three months from now on a Thursday night in Kansas City.
GRADE: B, which doesn’t include the league’s badly mishandled stance on social protests.
For a commissioner whose commitment to player health is suspect by his refusal to acknowledge concussions can cause CTE, Bettman might have been expected to play on when the virus started to create havoc. But the NHL quickly shut down, and now there’s a plan to go straight into playoffs this summer and crown a Stanley Cup champion in the fall. The devil is in the details, though, and so far the NHL hasn’t announced where the games will be played or how it will deal with getting players across the Canadian border.
Plus there’s something about playing hockey in the heat of the summer that’s just not right. Bettman might have been better off doing something he’s already done once — cancel the season.
So far Silver is the, er, gold standard among commissioners. The NBA not only has settled on Orlando, Florida, to host all returning teams but seems to have figured out a lot of the details on just how to play in a bubble. Between the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, though, some players are questioning the wisdom of resuming play too soon, and there are troubling increases in the positive test rate in the Orlando area.
The NBA is a star-driven league and if some of the stars decide it’s either too risky or not worth their trouble, the Florida bubble might look more like the NBA’s G League instead. Still, Silver seems to be on the right path.
Where do we even start? Manfred wasn’t exactly on a roll even before the pandemic hit with his failure to punish Astros players for stealing the 2017 World Series and his unwillingness to make fundamental changes to a game that is fast becoming unwatchable.
But trying to pretend that MLB owners are hurting because of the pandemic is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst. Yes, players deserve part of the blame for digging in their heels and refusing to make sacrifices at the worst possible time, but the meeting between Manfred and union chief Tony Clark this week showed there was always plenty of common ground for an agreement. Anything less than a 70-game season would be a joke, but Manfred is right about one thing — baseball needs to be done by the time the calendar turns to November.
The PGA Tour commissioner stumbled early by trying to hold the Player’s Championship before abandoning that after one round. He said recently he stayed awake at night worrying about golf’s return but if the first week at Colonial was any indication, the sport can be played safely without fans. Monahan has also managed to navigate competing interests with the Masters and other majors and somehow come up with a schedule that has a chance of actually working.
The real test may be the Memorial next month, where a limited number of fans will actually be let in and where we can only hope host Jack Nicklaus is wearing a mask.
GRADE: Leaning B-plus, but for now an early B.
She’s the newest of all the commissioners, tasked with the unenviable task of running a league that struggles to be viable even in normal times. But the WNBA has a plan to return for a 22-game season in Florida and — get this baseball — players will be paid their full salaries.