The Covid 19 pandemic has not only affected the sports events of 2020, but it is also affecting the entire sports schedule of next year. Due to the rising number of coronavirus cases across the country, many changes are being made to sports events, and this will have an impact on the entire sports schedule of 2021.
While the NFL is already preparing for an expanded postseason in 2021, the NBA has given approval for a shortened schedule. On the other hand, the NHL is considering a realignment of the entire schedule and venue due to the pandemic.
The traditional seasons are now making way for new rules, and many North American leagues are planning to implement several changes to the schedule and games in general. It has now become mandatory for the sports teams to conduct regular testing of the players and staff members to avoid the spread of coronavirus pandemic. This has already disrupted the entire schedule of 2020 events.
The NHL is considering altering the schedule as it has several teams, and some of them are from Canada. This means that cross-border coordination becomes essential, and if the pandemic is still not under control by that time, players may find it difficult to travel from one country to another to participate in the games.
In the normal season, 82 games are held, and the authorities are considering a shorter season if the pandemic makes it difficult to conduct all the games. Talking to the media, Commissioner Gary Bettman said that they are planning a system where players are kept in bubbles, and matches are played with gaps.
The idea is to have some games played in a bunch that does not require much traveling, and then the players go back home. In this way, players will be in separate bubbles, and this can help the authorities to prevent an outbreak if some team is affected with coronavirus in the future.
Not only that, they also plan to realign the locations for the matches as traveling from one country to another may become next to impossible in the event of an outbreak. This year, most of the matches were held in Toronto and Edmonton.
Coming to the NBA, an official statement has been issued regarding reducing the number of games in the 2021 season. The next season will have only 72 games as against the regular 82 games. The season which was supposed to start this month has been postponed by a month, and this is the reason for the reduction in the total number of games.
Some of the teams did not even get an opportunity to play since March, and they have to be included in some manner in the upcoming season. Many changes are made to the final schedule, and it may also get altered depending on the way the pandemic may progress in the near future.
As there is no respite to the number of coronavirus cases across the US in recent weeks, many experts are expressing doubts about the opening of the season next month. If there is no respite in the cases during the holiday season next month, the opening matches may get postponed to next year, and it can impact the entire schedule of the NBA in 2021.
The NFL is already bearing the brunt of the pandemic in recent weeks after more than 50 players tested positive for coronavirus along with several other staff members. Even then, the NFL authorities are not stopping as they want to finish the 16 game schedules for every team this year.
Several games were already rescheduled this year when many members of the team got affected at once. Not only that, even coaches got affected, and some of them were not available for matches during this season.
Considering all these things, the authorities have agreed to extend the season to 18-week format if it is necessary. Other than that, even the playoffs may be expanded to 16 teams as against the regular 14 teams.
The NFL games have been exciting for many reasons. It was an eye-opener for many other leagues as this gave a glimpse of how the games need to be held during a pandemic. Even though they were not successful in preventing the spread of coronavirus during the games, it gave enough hints about what would be the future of such tournaments during the pandemic.
All the teams had to undergo regular testing even when they were not playing to ensure that the transmission is kept to low levels during the game. When some player tested positive for the coronavirus, he was immediately sent on quarantine, and contact tracing would be started to identify other players who were in touch with the infected player. Such close contacts would also be sent on quarantine even when they did not have any symptoms.
Apart from that, players were advised to wear masks all the time when they were on the ground during practice sessions and regular matches. Even after taking all these precautions, more than 50 players got infected, and several trainers and staff members also got infected with the coronavirus.
Many matches had to be postponed when several members of the team got infected at once. Such a situation was never faced by any big league in the past. All the matches were played at empty stadiums, and the audience could only catch it on television. This has given a clear idea about how games will be played in the near future during the pandemic.
As it is not possible to isolate the players and staff members completely throughout the season, the authorities cannot ensure that players will not be infected during the tournament. Many players train with other members and also interact with family and friends during the tournament. In this situation, if there is a community spread in the region, it becomes extremely difficult to contain coronavirus spread among the players and staff members. If there is no respite in the near future, most of the games may get rescheduled in the next year.