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June 01, 2020

When are sports coming back? MLB players counter, NBA close to voting, MLS in stalemate

2_Wells_Fargo_Center_sixers_76ersvsCeltics_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

What do we do now?

For the major sports leagues in America that are not the NFL, we are reaching crunch time.

That's because — with the assumption that football season will commence as planned, with or without fans — there is a limited window for the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS to get their games in before they are overpowered by the NFL season in the fall. It's also because, if the leagues we mention hope to get their seasons finished and still preserve the ability to play a 2020-21 season in full, they have to give the players an offseason before starting it all again.

The clock is ticking for real progress to be made.

Essentially, leagues need to have a plan agreed on in early June, start their training processes in late June/early July, and start up sometime in July, into August and wrap things up ideally in September or October.

For some leagues that is a tall order, for others, they're right on schedule.

Here's a quick whip around of the latest on each sport's progress:


Just when it all seemed lost, the players have countered with their own plan — one that has a considerably longer season (114 games as opposed to the owners' 82 games) no doubt in an attempt to re-coop a little revenue. The proposal calls for the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby to take place to help generate more money and also allows for players who "opt out" of playing due to health concerns get paid in full.

Like any negotiation, the union's offering is expected to be rejected, but perhaps their plan can offer some kind of palpable gap that can be bridged by a future compromise. I mean, we can hope, can't we?

Here's a little analysis from ESPN baseball insider Jeff Passan:

Although the players expect the league to reject it, they hope it will serve as a bridge to a potential deal this week.

The 114-game season, which under the union's proposal would run from June 30 to Oct. 31, is expected to be immediately dismissed by the league; MLB has proposed an 82-game season and suggested that the more games teams play this year, the more money they lose. The union remains steadfast that players should receive their full prorated salaries, while MLB's plan included significant pay cuts that affected the highest-paid players the most but covered all levels.

The inclusion of potential deferrals in Sunday's proposal was an acknowledgement by the players that amid the coronavirus pandemic and unrest around the country, cash-flow issues could prove problematic for owners. The deferrals would occur only if the playoffs were canceled, a concern the league has voiced, and would total $100 million. They would apply to players whose contracts call for $10 million-plus salaries and include interest to make them whole.  [ESPN]


Now to a more optimistic league, where the discussion is not "if" they are coming back this summer but "how" and "when." According to reports, the NBA is set to vote on when they will return and how the playoffs (and potential season finish) will look. Several plans have been floated but here's a look, from The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti, at the most likely one:

But according to ESPN’s latest report on the discussions, the plan that is gathering the most steam is a 22-team scenario concocted by commissioner Adam Silver and the league office. Despite so many different parties being involved with so many different agendas, the report indicates that Silver has the backing of the owners no matter what scenario he recommends. In the 22-game scenario, all 16 current playoff teams would travel to Orlando, plus all teams within six games of a playoff spot. That means New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix, and Washington would all participate in what’s expected to be a handful of regular-season games and some kind of play-in scenario that gives Damian Lillard what he wanted: a shot at making the playoffs.

Other scenarios are still reportedly in play, including a 20-team approach where only four West teams (Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio and New Orleans) would return along with the current playoff teams. The plan to bring back all 30 teams, as Mavs owner Mark Cuban suggested, seems to be all but eliminated from consideration.  [The Ringer]


Hockey is ahead of the curve in planning, as last week they revealed they'll bring 20 teams to two neutral sites and commence a play-in mini tournament (and round robin for the top four seeds) before a proper Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, there are still a ton of questions about how things in a day-to-day sense will proceed to keep players healthy amid the continued threat of coronavirus. 

Testing will be expensive, especially if it is done every single day which is what many are proposing. According to ESPN, tests would cost $125 each and the NHL would need upwards of 35,000 of them. That's a pricing in the millions. And that's assuming they are available — and that getting them won't be a hinderance on the healthcare system which is tasked with implementing them to people who need them. All the major sports leagues will tackle this issue, but it looks like there's a chance hockey could lead the way.


Speaking of leading the way, this nation's biggest pro soccer league was looking to get a leg up on the competition. If they are able to, say, put together some kind of tournament in June before the other sports get moving, they could cash in on a sports hungry public and maybe even create some new fans. 

That was their plan at least. 

After the players agreed on several items in a vote Sunday including a 7.5% pay cut (less than the 8.75% cut ownership wants) and structure for a new CBA extension for five more years, the MLS seemed unsatisfied and "pushed back." Soccer fans — who were hopeful a Disney-hosted tournament would begin within the month, are no doubt very dismayed as the league looks like it may be at an impasse (at the very time when it should be working to take advantage of a unique opportunity — just like Major League Baseball).

But according to multiple sources, MLS has already pushed back, insisting that it has submitted its best offer and that it won't budge further. ESPN television analyst Herculez Gomez tweeted that MLS is giving the players until noon on Tuesday, otherwise they will lock the players out. 
One source called MLS's threat "a disingenuous act," especially given how much the MLSPA membership has offered.  [ESPN]

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