Return to Play: Which Leagues Solved It and Who’s Left Hanging

As the nation begins to allow more businesses to re-open, sports has started to get back on track amidst the global pandemic. Though not in the U.S., Bundesliga, the German soccer league, was one of the very first to resume play. On the other side of the world, the Korean baseball league also resumed and ESPN has not been shy about carrying the live games, though one must be an early riser to catch a few innings. Expect to be awake around 5:00 am (ET), if not earlier to see the great sport back in action.

Meanwhile, the focus has shifted strongly Stateside as the NHL and NBA have made a strong push to begin their leagues once again. While the NHL was the first to have a plan in place, all indications point toward the NBA having their games occur first with a target start date of July 31st. How the NBA put it all together has been something of a mystery in the respect of how they assembled it all. As it turns out, the process, from start to finish, was a negotiation. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made it a point to listen to the players and vice versa.

The NHL had a very similar experience with one twist. Their committee to get back on the ice was comprised of league officials and a carefully selected five-player board to represent the interests of the players’ union. For the most part, the players are onboard with the arrangements of limiting play in two hub cities, diving right into playoffs and expanding those playoffs from 16 to 24 teams. There was almost zero negativity that came out of this arrangement. Like the NBA’s efforts, it was a negotiation that heavily involved player input in determining just how things would be structured up to and upon games resuming.

So where does that leave the status of baseball?

Major League Baseball is currently in a near-disastrous position as it is having nowhere near the success of the NHL and NBA when it comes to returning to play. To understand how that league got to this point, it is important to examine baseball’s process, which has done anything but mirror the fluidity and vision of hockey and basketball.

To begin with, efforts initiated with the owners approaching the players’ union and asking them to take a pay cut, both sides aware the season would be shortened, though by how much is still up in the air. The players agreed to the salary decrease. Hey, success, right? Not quite.

The owners returned to the players and asked them to take a second pay cut. The players vehemently rejected this proposal, with some such as the Nationals’ Max Scherzer being quite outspoken on the issue. While critics will point out the reality that the players are not going to starve after taking a second decrease in salary, it is the principal of the matter that their contracts are mutual agreements to play a 162-game season at their corresponding incomes. Taking a pay cut with a shortened season is a no-brainer, yet the owners fumbled the situation when they didn’t get their request right the first time. To ask of a second pay decrease came across like a slap in the face to the players, which has become near incendiary if anything.

Next is the owners laying the groundwork for an 80-game season. The players countered with something that wasn’t even close as they suggested 114 games. This canyon of a gap between the owners and union only further reinforces how so far apart the two sides are.

Baseball is  the game of summer and next week the calendar will arrive in mid-June. The point being, time is quickly passing while the chances for baseball to come back dwindle. Certainly a 114-game season is less and less a reality by the hour. Before long, the same will hold true for an 80-game season, perhaps a notion that has struck owners quite abruptly as the concept for a 50-game season is now being floated around.

This contractual tug-o-war has amounted to nothing more than both sides telling each other how it is. There are two separate adversaries, each willing to give up only minimal concessions while ballparks remain devoid of nine-inning play. Major League Baseball lacked the foresight and joint effort that both the NHL and NBA began with. Sadly, the probability of no baseball this summer grows with each passing week and every vaunted ego.

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