MLB’s failure, NBA’s success, what should the NFL do?

September 17, 2020 — by Jun Lee

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated the status quo of sports leagues, initially shutting down the MLB, NBA, various other American sports associations and even postponing the majority of worldwide events such as the Olympics or the World Cup. 

Several sports leagues in the U.S. restarted in July, but current pandemic-related problems in those leagues indicate that officials may not have paid enough attention to one important question: What happens if a player tests positive again? 

Since the NFL decided against playing its 2020-2021 season in a bubble, the NFL faces challenges in minimizing the chance of an outbreak chain among players, making it likely that the NFL’s return could resemble the MLB’s disastrous coronavirus outbreak rather than the NBA’s much more successful season. In my view, the NFL should reconsider its decision to allow fans into the stadium under social distancing guidelines because the system does not allow for engagement with the public in any risky behavior, while securing the opportunity to still present sport shows.

Major League Baseball, with its system similar to that of the NFL, has already seen a significant number of players across several teams test positive, leading to the rescheduling of 32 games and counting.

Nevertheless, the league allowed teams to continue playing, which led to more coronavirus cases. Five games into their season, the St. Louis Cardinals experienced a team-wide outbreak, with 10 players and eight staff members testing positive. The team did not play any games for nearly three weeks, but returned on Aug. 15 with a 5-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. 

The MLB recently announced the schedule for 2020 MLB playoffs in a bubble system in the Southern California area as well as the central Texas area. At the same time, the World Series is planned to be played in Arlington, Texas. 

Rather than following in the misguided footsteps of the MLB, the NFL should instead follow what the NBA has done to minimize the danger of COVID-19.

For all of the problems that the MLB has experienced, the NBA has fared much better in its quarantine bubble in Florida. The tested players have been cleared to play and have left the NBA training facility for isolation housing. The NBA’s bubble environment effectively prevents outside interactions while still allowing the public to interact with the league virtually.

NBA officials announced that crowds will not be allowed for the remainder of the season, but players currently in the Orlando bubble will be allowed to attend games. With the ongoing condition of COVID-19, there is also uncertainty as to whether NBA officials will allow fans in seats for the 2020-21 season, which may be critical to the league’s ability to earn its normal profits.

Realistically, the success of resuming the NBA is more indicative than other leagues, because basketball requires close physical contact during gameplay. If the NBA is able to successfully complete their season, other high-contact sports like football or hockey may also be able to more confidently plan for their own.

Unlike the NBA, the NFL has also stated that fans will be allowed at games in a limited capacity provided they practice social distancing and wear face coverings. There is no guarantee, however, that a coronavirus outbreak among fans will not spread to players, even given the extra precautions. Therefore, if the NFL wants any chance to complete their season safely, it is crucial that they do the bare minimum of not allowing fans to attend games. 

However, when comparing the MLB’s lack of fans combined with no bubble, to the NBA’s lack of fans combined with a bubble, it is clear that the lack of fans does little to prevent the spread of the virus — instead, the presence of the bubble is what makes the difference. Hence, the next step the NFL should take is to reopen negotiations with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and implement a similar bubble system, even if it’s only during the playoffs. 


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