By Garrett Farrell
In recent weeks three major sports leagues—the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Soccer (MLS)—have all announced plans to resume and finish their seasons. Activity in each league has been suspended since mid-March, when concerns over the coronavirus caused a near-blackout of all sporting activities.
MLS will be returning on July 8, and all remaining games will be played in the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex outside of Orlando, Florida. All 26 teams will participate in the return, making MLS the only professional sports league so far to allow all of its teams to return to play. The initial stage of the return will be called “The MLS is Back Tournament.”
“The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches, and staff as we return to play,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber on the importance of resuming the sport in a closed environment.
MLS plans to use a format similar to the FIFA World Cup for the “MLS is back tournament.” The teams will be broken up into six groups; Group A will have six teams and the rest of the groups will each have four teams. The groups will be randomly drawn so that only teams from a given conference will play each other.
Each group will be a round-robin, with the top two teams in each group securing a spot in the tournament. Additionally, the four best third-place teams in each group will secure a spot in the tournament. After the “MLS is Back Tournament” concludes, the league will return to a modified schedule in the teams’ home markets and then begin the MLS Cup Playoffs. No dates have been set for the return to home markets or the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The NBA will return on July 31, and, similar to MLS, all remaining games will be played at the Wide World of Sports complex outside Orlando. The return will only include the teams that were in a playoff spot before the hiatus as well as the teams that were within six games of the eighth seed in their conference. In total, the Western Conference will have 13 teams in Orlando, while the Eastern Conference will have nine.
Each team participating in the return will play eight games to finish determining the seeding for the playoffs. After these games are played there will potentially be a play-in game for the eighth seed in each conference play-offs. After the play-off bracket is set, the tournament will proceed as usual, with best-of-seven series determining which team will advance to the next round.
Because only teams that were within six games of a playoff spot are eligible to compete in this format, the 2019-20 season has ended for the Hornets, Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, and Warriors. This decision has drawn some controversy, as all of the teams who were eliminated under this plan could still have qualified for the playoffs under normal circumstances.
The National Hockey League has not announced a date when it will begin its modified playoffs. The NHL announced that the Stanley Cup playoffs would take place in two hub cities, which have yet to be announced. The playoffs for each conference will be tiered. The first tier will consist of the top four teams in each conference playing a round-robin to determine seeding for the tournament. For the Eastern Conference these teams are the Bruins, the Lightning, the Capitals, and the Flyers; for the Western Conference these teams are the Blues, the Avalanche, the Golden Knights, and the Stars.
The second tier will consist of the teams that hold the fifth through twelfth seeds in each conference, and will be a best-of-five series to determine which team advances; the matchups for this stage are 5 vs. 12, 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 10, and 8 vs. 9. After each of these series are completed, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will proceed as normal, in a best-of-seven tournament. The matchups for the first round of the playoffs will be determined by the seeding of the teams that win the best-of-five series.
When discussing the plan on returning to play, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made sure to note that this plan was made mainly in service to the fans, saying, “The reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want to complete the season if at all possible. And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion.”
“The new play-in format has never been done before and I personally feel that it will be fun to watch,” said junior international economics and finance major Scott Sander on the league’s plan to resume play. “These teams will all be desperate to make the playoffs and it will hopefully lead to good hockey.”