Back in March, professional sports added itself to the endless list of normal American activities forced to grind to a halt in the face of the coronavirus. Every professional sports league postponed or cancelled its season without a clear idea of when fans and athletes would ever be reunited.
Now organizations including the NFL and MLB are slowly but surely unveiling their plans to get back in the game. When will your favorite sports return, and how different will they look? Here’s everything you should know.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
MLB training camps officially reopened on July 1 to prepare for a 60-game schedule that begins on July 23. As expected, the MLB will enforce significant rule changes this year:
- Specific COVID-19 injury list for players who test positive, have confirmed exposure, or exhibit symptoms
- Temperature and symptom checks twice a day
- Pitchers must use wet rags instead of licking their fingers
- All players in dugout and bullpen must use mask
- No communal food spreads, spitting, smokeless tobacco, or sunflower seeds allowed
- Fans are not permitted to watch games in stadiums
It will still be baseball, technically, but fans should expect a very unique season.
National Football League (NFL)
The NFL, which wrapped up its Superbowl only a month before the coronavirus emerged, plans to begin its regular season on September 10. However, not much else is known at this time. Individual teams and the league as a whole are still working to define their COVID-19 rules and determine whether fans will be permitted in stadiums for games.
If the NFL decides to allow fans, it won’t quite be the noisy, raucous experiences of the past. According to leagues currently contemplating holding fan events during training camp, “The number of fans would be restricted [and subject to agreement], and they would be kept distant from players. There would be no interaction between fans and players, and fans in stadiums would be seated a specific number of rows from the field.”
National Basketball Association (NBA)
The domino effect of cancelled and postponed sports seasons began with the NBA back in March. Now the NBA has plans to finish what it started in the winter. However, unlike the MLB and NFL, which have allowed their teams to continue training and playing in their local cities, the NBA took a unique approach.
The NBA’s Board of Governors approved a plan to allow 22 teams to play and live at the Disney sports complex near Orlando, Florida. Games are set to begin July 30 and continue into October. No fans are allowed and teams must follow strict COVID-19 protocols on and off the court.
Other sports such as golf, horse racing, auto racing, and soccer are all restarting as well, each with their own COVID-19 plans in place. The Indianapolis 500 scheduled for August 23, for example, will allow fans at half capacity.
Only time will tell whether the carefully crafted COVID-19 policies enforced by each major sports team will be enough to resuscitate the world of sports while keeping fans and players safe.