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Planning out a potential calendar for a return to sports amid COVID-19 pandemic

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As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Four professional sports leagues, combat sports promotions and other organizations around the United States are left wondering about what’s next while dealing with different postponements or cancellations.

Annual events like The Masters, March Madness and Wimbledon took different types of hits, with the former pushed out to the fall and the latter two cancelled altogether. The Summer Olympics were postponed a full year to take place in 2021, and now other leagues like the NBA and MLB are forced to figure out the best solutions to give their athletes the chance to compete for championships and represent their countries, as well.

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And, in moves with a bigger domestic impact, the NBA and NHL each postponed their seasons with one month left in their schedules until their respective postseasons. MLB had to delay the start of their regular season, and the NFL was forced to transition their upcoming draft from an in-person event in Las Vegas to a fully-virtual event.

While all of these setbacks continue to pile on, sports fans continue to remain optimistic about an eventual return to action across all types of events. Current directives at both the federal and many state levels signal a potential return to normal in May if all goes well, which would force each organization to scramble to get their respective athletes back into the swing of things in a hurry.

But, based on the current timelines and banking on a positive mindset, here’s an idea for a potential calendar for the next year to get things back on track across the sports world, even if fans aren’t allowed in attendance:

April 18: UFC fights return

Dana White has reportedly secured a private island for international fighters and tribal land in California for domestic fighters to ensure that the show goes on for UFC events. While it may create some backlash due to its defiance of recommendations from government officials, it will be a pivotal step in the right direction for the return of all sports.

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April 18 will be an important day in that plan, with the UFC planning to hold UFC 249 at its new home for the next few events it has on its schedule.

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April 23 – April 25: NFL Draft

The 2020 NFL Draft is already scheduled and set in stone at this point, given the fact that the league is already planning on the fully-virtual option. If all goes on without a hitch, the NFL would then just have to hope for the best this summer for a clean start to training camps and the preseason.

May 15: MLB regular season begins

A month and a half late, sure. But, as they say, better late than never. Pushing an entire baseball season back a month and a half would place the World Series at the end of November, so MLB would likely have to shorten their season to a 132-game season or less if they’re looking to keep the postseason in October.

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May 15 gives them a week or two to get logistics figured out if the start of May is still the timeline, and allows for enough notice for players, coaches and executives.

May 22 – June 26: NBA finishes regular season

The NBA season was postponed on March 11, and was scheduled to end on April 15. In this alternate universe, the league can inform teams about the suspected return dates, give each squad time to figure out arena availability alongside their NHL counterparts, and give players and coaches a few weeks to get back into game shape.

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To avoid disappointing any teams in close races for playoff spots, the league can complete their full schedule (about 20 games for each team) and flow right into a postseason schedule that will take them through the summer.

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May 22 – June 26: NHL finishes regular season

Most NHL teams have right around 15 games left in their schedules, so plan on a month or so to finish out their regular season if they’re looking to complete the full 82-game slate before the playoffs.

June 28 – August 28: NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs

Many sports fans complain about the lack of any meaningful sports from mid-June through the end of August, which is generally a time period full of MLB games and preseason activities and games across the NFL. Now, the NBA and NHL can stay in the conversation for an entire summer with the peak of their action.

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Rather than jumping right into the postseason after the postponements, both leagues can give their players time to get back into a rhythm before the most important games of the year. Then, they can operate on a normal playoff schedule, just two months later than usual. The only concern? The heat during the summer months and its impact on the ice in NHL arenas.

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August: NFL preseason begins

Holding on to their usual schedule, the NFL could start their preseason in August, giving teams time to get acquainted with new teammates and coaches ahead of the 2020 season. Plus, if needed, they could trim the preseason down to fewer games to still provide enough of a warmup for teams, while still keeping the regular season on schedule.

September 1: NBA free agency begins

In a unique twist, with the NBA season rolling until the end of August, the NBA would have to shift the usual craziness that comes with the free agency period into the fall, lining up with the start of the NFL season.

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The best course of action if this happens? Start free agency on September 1, just a few days before the start of the NFL regular season, but not close enough to the NFL’s first Sunday so as to space out the wide variety of news that would come that week. It would be ambitious and potentially lead to a lot of overlap, but it’d make up for the lack of content from March and April.

September 6: NFL regular season begins

President Donald Trump reportedly said on a conference call with league commissioners that he would like to see the NFL regular season begin in September like usual, so, operating under our positive philosophy, let’s assume that the first NFL Sunday would be September 6, following a Thursday night game featuring the defending Super Bowl Champion Chiefs.

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The league may be spending the next month that they’re reportedly using to develop the 2020 schedule in order to build up contingencies for shortened seasons, so this September 6 date could quickly turn into September 20 or October 4. Regardless, let’s hope for at least 12 to 14 regular season games on the 2020 NFL slate.

November 9 through November 15: The Masters

Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, recently released a statement announcing that the targeted dates for The Masters would be November 9 through November 15. If all goes according to plan, networks like CBS would have some big decisions to make as it relates to college football games on Saturday, November 14, and NFL games on Sunday, November 15.

Regardless, the dates for The Masters are as set as can be at the moment, so this ideal calendar will go along with that assumption.

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December 15: Shortened NBA and NHL regular seasons begin

Rather than abruptly shortening the NBA and NHL regular seasons if/when the postponements end, it may make more sense to have a delayed start to the 2020-2021 regular seasons, and shorten them by 15-20 games.

It would give teams the chance to finish their pushes for postseason play in the 2019-2020 seasons, keep morale as solid as possible heading into the upcoming playoffs, and let teams plan accordingly for next year. Plus, it would add more excitement to games around the holidays, and turn the NBA’s Christmas Day slate into a more unique lineup of games.

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Then, the shortened season would get each league back on their usual tracks for a normal calendar in the following years, and also give NBA athletes a chance to compete in the Summer Olympics.

April 2021: MLB regular season begins

By April 2021, fans will hopefully be able to watch their favorite MLB teams with a full schedule starting in April, and all will be right in the world. If needed, the start of the regular season could be planned for May instead, allowing some extra leeway for the potential return of COVID-19-related issues.

April 2021 – June 2021: NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs begin

With the shortened seasons, the NBA and NHL would be able to start their postseasons on time, and have less of a gap in between the start of the league year and the beginning of the playoffs, adding intensity to each regular season game.

July 23, 2021 – August 8, 2021: Summer Olympics

The Summer Olympics were unfortunately postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, with a year for the world to figure out next steps for when the coronavirus isn’t running rampant, the event could serve as the first opportunity for athletes from around the world to come together and represent their countries on a global stage.

After the Olympics are all over, the entire sports calendar would be back on track, and fans would be able to rejoice once and for all.

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