Legends On Deck

MLB’s Management of COVID Outbreak and the Future of Sports

The 2020 MLB season is finally underway. After a long delay and extended negotiation process between the MLBPA and owners we now have a 60 game season and 16 team postseason.  The MLB season is similar to the NBA, NHL and MLS in that they are playing without crowds.  But, the difference between MLB and the rest is that they are playing games in their home ballparks.

The MLB schedule involves travel between cities vs the “bubble” approach being implemented by the other leagues.  Both approaches pose a certain level of risk.  But, the MLB approach has more of a traditional travel schedule.  Just after last weekend’s games, many Miami Marlins players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19.  This resulted in cancellation of the Marlins-Orioles and Phillies-Yankees series early this week.  The Twitter mob was immediately up in arms, calling to close down the season and blame everyone who’s ever suggested that live sports should return.

Crisis Management, Not Cancellation

The reality is that everyone knew that the return of baseball (and other sports) would not come without risk.  The detailed return to play plans included policies and procedures that would help limit exposure, minimize contraction and address outbreaks.  The Marlins problem means MLB has to deal with the first major crisis management issue in COVID-era sports.

The Marlins mishap is forcing MLB to reevaluate their COVID protocols.  New positive test results by Cardinals players now have the Cardinals and Brewers week on hold.  The league is now requiring the use of surgical masks while traveling and an appointing a compliance officer for each team.  There may be other changes on the way.  Some ideas may prove to work, some may not.  It has recently come to light that Marlins players broke protocol, visiting bars prior to contracting the virus.   Commissioner Rob Manfred allegedly told MLBPA President Tony Clark that if players don’t follow the rules, the season could be in jeopardy.  Players are now asking each other to follow the guidelines.

There are many voices in the sports media who seem to be rooting for the outbreak to result in canceling the season.  Why people who make their living covering sports would root for league not to play is quite perplexing.  Everyone should be hoping that MLB manages this first major challenge effectively and plays the entire season.  If MLB survives August, it could help pave the way for the return of football in September.

Finding a Way to Finish

The Marlins, Phillies, Cardinals and Brewers do pose serious scheduling issues in this 60 game season.  However, most teams are continuing the season as planned.  When theses teams return to play they will need to be some kind of way to get their games in.  More double headers are likely.  Some kind of end of the season tournament prior to the postseason may be needed.  A larger roster may be necessary.  The postseason may need to be moved back a week or two.  A non-traditional season may call for creative approaches to evolving challenges.

The return of baseball has been a welcomed distraction in these turbulent times.  The 2020 season has been anything but normal.  MLB has the opportunity to be the model for how to return to play in a more traditional format.  They need to do what it takes to complete the season, safely and successfully.

Brian Koss
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