MLB’s struggles with COVID-19 are a bad sign for football

Commissioner Rob Manfred conducts his annual #ASG Town Hall at #FanFest.
Rob Manfred has already warned teams that the season is in jeopardy due to coronavirus outbreaks. (Wikimedia Commons)

If you have been keeping tabs on the MLB’s delayed season so far, you no doubt know that it is not going too well from a player safety stand point. The league has already had to postpone or cancel a number of games due to coronavirus outbreaks within two separate clubs. 21 members of the Miami Marlins organization tested positive for the virus. At least 13 members of the St. Louis Cardinals have tested positive and that number is still rising. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has already started to discuss potentially shutting down the season.

It is at this point that I’m sure the league and potentially many of its players wish they had opted for a bubble format like other professional sports leagues. The NWSL ran it’s Challenge Cup tournament without a hitch. MLS had some hiccups at the very beginning of it’s tournament, but things have been smooth sailing since teams entered the bubble. The WNBA and NBA have gotten off to strong starts. The NHL has no positive tests inside its bubble so far.

Baseball clearly looks to be in trouble. MLB seems to be at a loss for how to isolate and prevent these outbreaks from spreading through teams like wildfire. Red flags are going up all over the place for college football and the NFL as a result.

Despite the warning signs, Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL’s league office are resistant to forming a bubble for the 2020 season. The league is plowing ahead with restrictions and safety protocols in place at training camps.

580px-bill_belichick_2019_28cropped29
Bill Belichick has a unique challenge ahead of him with eight Patriots players opting out of the 2020 season so far. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are not even plans in place to build a potential bubble. As a result, dozens of players are opting out and even more find themselves on the newly created COVID-19/Reserve list to open training camp.

With fans not allowed to attend games in many states and percentage caps implemented at stadiums in others, it is hard to understand why the NFL is not at least attempting to create a bubble plan. It seems like many traditional revenue streams for teams will be interrupted this season, so I would imagine cutting costs would be a priority. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the league’s finances, but eliminating weekly travel would likely cut down on a huge expense for each franchise.

There would be plenty of costs that come with securing a bubble site large enough to accommodate all the players, coaches, trainers, medical staff, referees and more that go into staging an NFL season. You can’t do this for free, but the league has the finances to make it happen.

I understand it also might be a bit of a tough sell for players to commit to leaving their families to live in a bubble for the next four to six months, but that is the price of playing football in 2020. I totally respect players opting out for their own safety or for the safety of their families. I know that creating a bubble puts some strain on these athletes, but it is clear based on what is happening in baseball that without the bubble, the risk of spreading the virus is much higher. Let me reiterate it from before: the bubble works!

From a player and public safety perspective, the bubble set up seems to be the only way the 2020 season will be able to take place. MLB’s early blunders underlines how difficult it is to limit the spread of the virus with larger rosters traveling across the country.

For college football, it is much easier said than done to craft a bubble scenario. Universities have taken some larger steps to account for the concerns that come with playing the sport during the pandemic. All the Power 5 conferences have announced plans to play conference-only schedules this season. The ACC and Big 12 did throw in the added wrinkle of one non-conference game to be included in the 2020 schedule.

Cutting down or eliminating non-conference games limits travel to some degree, but not as much as would be considered the safest measure possible. These teams still will be traveling to multiple states across the country, the travel will simply be more regionalized. Emphasis on more here because conferences like the ACC still have travel involving Massachusetts, Indiana and Georgia.

memorial_stadium_pano
Texas is holding out hope for fans to attend games this fall, announcing plans for 50 percent capacity at home games. (Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, due to the massive number of teams in Division I, it would be impossible to create a bubble setting for all of college football. The potential for a conference-only bubble to work is much higher, but there are still hurdles that would need to be cleared, including many the NFL would not face given the makeup of the player pool.

Even if these conferences found appropriate sites to host these bubble seasons, student-athletes would still need to attend classes. While some would undoubtedly be able to take classes online, it is unlikely every athlete would be able to take every class virtually.

It also feels like a lot more to ask of athletes who technically hold amateur status to isolate in a bubble for three or so months.

Look, I am not pretending this is an easy issue to solve. In fact, I am acknowledging that it is very difficult. However, I think it is pretty easy to connect the dots here regarding which formula works and which one does not. It is time to start taking the appropriate steps to suitably prepare for the season.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This virus has killed over 150 thousand people in the U.S. alone. It is disproportionately affecting communities of color. People of color make up the majority of NFL and college football rosters. If we really want to place high priority on bringing back sports, we need to do so in the safest way possible, recognizing the impact potential missteps could have on local communities. That is clearly establishing a bubble format. It’s time for the NFL to change its tune and for college football to start getting as creative as possible.

Top five most successful sports cities

As a continuation from yesterday’s piece, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city cracked the top five.

#5 Chicago: 3 total titles in 6 total appearances
Chicago actually has fewer titles than San Antonio but gets the nod for the extra finals appearance and diversity across more than one sport. Chicago is home to the two-time finalist Fire of the MLS in 2000 and 2003. The Bears also claim the Windy City as home. Even though this NFL team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, they did make it to 2007 Super Bowl. Despite the Cubs century long struggle to win the World Series, the White Sox claimed a title in 2005. The other two titles came from the NHL side. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. Chicago has seen championship berths from the spread out across these 15 years. The Bulls, despite all the success in the 90s, have not made it to the finals since the turn of the century.

#4 Miami: 4 total titles in 6 total appearances
Florida’s major city clocks in at number four largely due to the success of the Miami Heat during this decade. The Heat made it to a NBA-record four straight NBA Finals, winning the middle two. The Heat also locked up a championship back in 2006 as well over the Dallas Mavericks. So yes, most of the credit goes to the NBA team but the baseball team based in Miami has a World Series title as well. The Marlins, who back then were only the Florida Marlins but still played in the city, won the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees. The titles from two different sports gives Miami a boost. Now if only the Dolphins could help the city out. Soccer could be springing up as well soon as David Beckham seeks to set up a MLS expansion team. For now though, Miami is nowhere close to jumping over the top three cities on the list.

#3 Tri-State: 6 total titles in 15 total appearances
This seems like it is cheating a little bit but it is hard to differentiate New York and New Jersey. Despite being called the New York Giants, Jets and Red Bulls, all of these teams play in New Jersey, along with the Devils. Either way, The Giants locked up two Super Bowl titles in 2008 and 2012. The Red Bulls made a Cup run in 2008, falling short to Columbus. The Yankees won two World Series titles in 2000 and 2009, the 2000 one over the cross-town rival Mets. The Yanks also made the 2001 and 2003 Series. On the ice, the Devils have two Stanley Cups from runs in 2000 and 2003 to go along with losses in the 2001 and 2012 final. Even the Nets, who back then played in Jersey, made consecutive title appearances in 2002 and 2003. Worth noting, New Jersey based teams have accounted for 4 titles in 9 appearances while New York teams only have 2 championships in 6 showings. Looks like Jersey is holding up their end of the deal…

#2 Boston: 9 total titles in 18 total appearances
You know a city is dominant when they have more finals appearances than there are years in our criteria. Boston’s 18 championship runs is one less than the number one team on this list. The cities 9 titles are incredible though. The largest contributor has been the Patriots, with Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2015 and losses in 2008 and 2012. The Red Sox have held up their end of the bargain as well, delivering 3 World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013. The Celtics and Bruins even locked up a title each in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The little known fact is that Revolution actually have contributed the second most title appearances, with five. The issue is that they have come up short every time in the MLS Final. Still Boston’s titles are very impressive. They just couldn’t edge out number one.

#1 Los Angeles: 14 total titles in 19 total appearances
Wow. 14 titles in 15 years. It’s no wonder stars love going to Los Angeles. With teams in every one of the sports being considered but football, LA probably solid chances of succeeding but still 13 championships in 15 years in unprecedented. The LA Galaxy have brought home 5 MLS Cups in 7 attempts in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Lakers have the same numbers with their titles coming in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. The Kings have been stellar of late, nabbing two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks grabbed a trophy on the ice in 2007. The Anaheim Angeles added a World Series title in 2002 as well. When one city has three different teams winning titles in a single year (2002), there is really no discussion. This city has truly become Titletown since the year of 2000.

Disagree with the list, tell me who you think should have been included and who should have missed the cut.