Well, sports are coming back.
Even with the entire country in a necessary state of disarray at the moment, the return of professional sports on television is something to look forward to. To be fair though, I do think it is a little bit dangerous to praise the return of the NBA for being a distraction, because maybe we shouldn’t be distracting ourselves from the conversations currently taking place. Maybe focusing on all the distractions instead of the issues has been a part of the problem all along. Regardless, I’m excited for basketball’s return from an entertainment standpoint. And although distraction may not be the right word, I have missed sports’ ability to get us angry and emotionally invested in things that ultimately don’t matter. I guess it’ll be nice to have debates revolved around something unimportant for a change. We can definitely count on those debates taking place too, considering the fact that sports are not only reentering our lives, they are coming back in new and experimental formats.
After weeks of speculation and various proposals, the NBA finally announced what it would look like upon its return. The 2019-2020 season is set to resume on July 31, in Orlando, with a 22 team format. Those 22 teams will be made up of 13 from the Western Conference and nine from the Eastern Conference. The top 16 teams were obviously included, as well as all teams within six games of eighth place in both conferences. Starting on July 31, every team will play eight regular-season “seeding” games. After each team has finished those eight games, which will affect their record and seed, the league will either begin the playoffs immediately or a play-in tournament will take place. A play-in tournament will only take effect if a ninth seed, from either conference, finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth place team. The number 9 seed would need to beat the number 8 seed twice in the play-in tournament to earn a playoff berth, while the number 8 seed would only need one win from the two potential games. After all that is sorted out, the playoffs will run as they normally do… besides the fact that all games will take place in empty gyms in Orlando.
Basketball is not the only sport set to return to our televisions soon. Just this past week, the NHL announced its plan to return with a 24 team playoff tournament. Baseball seems to be the one sport lagging behind everyone else, as disputes between MLB owners and players continue to rage on. Seemingly, these two groups have not been able to see eye-to-eye from the beginning. In fact, it is now being reported that owners are interested in a 48 game season, while the players union is in favor of 82 games. Only one thing is clear about the potential 2020 MLB season, which is that it will be much shorter than a typical baseball season. This fact, along with the lack of fans in attendance across all sports and the changes to the NBA and NHL playoff formats, means things are going to look a little weird in the sports world when games do eventually come back. This is something that I simply came to accept a while ago, but now it is something that I’m actually excited for.
Perhaps it is because everything that is currently going on in the world has me taking anything sports-related less seriously, but for some reason I’m just down for some weirdness. While I’ll admit I still think we’re all going to dislike watching games with no fans more than we’re expecting to, I’m really looking forward to everything else that is going to come with post-quarantine sports games. It’s important to note that this is not the attitude I’ve had all throughout quarantine. If you were to tell me in March or April that we’d be getting a 48 game baseball season this year, I would have hated it. And while I still prefer something in the neighborhood of 70-80 games, my feelings towards the 48 game season now are basically “sure, fuck it let’s try it.”
Nothing about the world is normal right now, so we shouldn’t expect anything to be normal in sports after they return from an unplanned four month hiatus. That is why I’m excited about the possibility of a play-in tournament in the NBA; I’m excited about whatever strangeness may come from the NHL’s new format; I’m excited about a shortened MLB season in which every game means much more than a typical year; I’m excited to watch the Masters and the Kentucky Derby in the Fall. I just want sports back. And as I stated earlier, I just want to argue about things that don’t matter for a bit, because it’s a lot more fun—and a lot less frustrating—than arguing about things that do matter.