I know everyone wants a triumphant return of sports, that glorious day when the games we all love come back, when folks who mark their calendars every year for opening day get their wish and stands are full and crowds are loud. The balance of the sporting world is restored and every team in every league moves forward united.
That’s not happening this year.
Reality hit when NCAA President Mark Emmert told ESPN that his association would neither mandate nor oversee a uniform return of college sports after the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on the entire sporting world. Those decisions, he said, would be left to state and local health departments, plus individual universities.
That’s the prudent way to go, considering how different states sit at different points in their recovery plans. West Virginia is set to reintroduce indoor dining at restaurants at limited capacity and reopen large retail stores. Oregon has yet to begin Phase 1 of its reopening process.
So what you see in one state, you won’t see in another. The California State University System already announced it would keep campuses closed for the fall. That spurred one Division II conference to already cancel fall sports. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis was on “Fox and Friends” inviting NFL teams whose states haven’t opened to come to the Sunshine State and play their games.
Emmert said recently he can’t see schools that don’t offer on campus classes to all students justifying the return of student-athletes. Sports Illustrated recently interviewed the commissioners of all 10 Football Bowl Subdivision Conferences and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbick. Swarbick agreed with Emmert. Yet American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco and Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said they could see student-athletes taking virtual classes and still participating in athletics.
And that’s before collective bargaining negotiations even come into play. Major League Baseball owners have proposed a 2020 season that lasts 82 games, starts in early July and would include a 50/50 revenue split between players and owners. But MLB Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark implied in an interview with The Athletic that such a revenue split wouldn’t pass muster with the players.
Opinions differ from state to state, sport to sport, league to league, maybe even team to team. Decisions likely will end up the same way.
So anyone who is looking for a nice, uniform return to sports in 2020, well, to paraphrase a line from my Grandpa Bud, want in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up the fastest.
It’s very likely that your favorite team will have a rival that starts practice before it does. There’s a chance your favorite team could have a rival that starts playing before it does. There’s even a chance your favorite team could have a rival that ends up playing more regular-season games than it does. Bowlsby told Sports Illustrated that if 40 states open and 10 don’t, sports go on without the 10 and “that could actually happen within leagues as well.”
Competitive balance could be impossible to achieve, not because leagues don’t want to, but because they just can’t. And some, like West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown said Wednesday, wonder if competitive balance ever truly existed in the first place.
Sports will come back in 2020, but it will be messy. There will be arguments. There will be accusations. There will be bad feelings. But there will be sports. And every fan waiting for those sports had better realize that they probably won’t get everything they want when they want it, even if fans of other teams do.
If they expect anything else, they’ll just sit there with a handful of spit.