Are Big-Time Sports Even Possible Without a Bubble Approach?

Christopher Walsh

Major League Baseball didn't even make it through its opening weekend before its 2020 season was in jeopardy. 

The National Football League has numerous players deciding not play. 

These are the two leagues college football was looking to the most for trying to figure out if it can play this fall. Why those two? Obviously the NFL plays the same contract-driven game, but just as important was that these two pro leagues are not using a bubble-type system. 

In other words, they have the same massive hurdle to try and overcome.

Baseball has already botched this, and there's plenty of blame to go around. Owners and players both rejected a bubble system in favor of the more dangerous plan of no isolation and traveling from city to city on a regular basis.

The players and owners also agreed to test everyone only every other day, with results known within 48 hours. In theory, a player could spread the virus for nearly four days before knowing about it.

Meanwhile, the University of Alabama knows its test results for anyone, including the school facility and staff workers, in approximately two hours.

What was MLB thinking? 

It shouldn't have surprised anyone when the Florida Marlins had a team-wide outbreak. Even though three players had tested positive before Sunday's game against the Phillies, the team went ahead and played.  

Over a dozen Marlins players and staff members tested positive for the virus by Monday. Another four players reportedly tested positive on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the NFLPA announced that 21 players have tested positive for COVID-19 at training camps, but did not disclose how many were tested.

A number of NFL players have also notified their teams that they won't play this season, including three former Crimson Tide standouts: Dont'a Hightower, Andre Smith and Chance Warmack.

They'll get $150,000 (minus any amounts already received in 2020), and have their contracts reinstated in 2021. So the real cost to them won't be known until next year.

Hightower is in the final season of a four-year, $35.5 million contract that included $17 million guaranteed and a $10 million signing bonus. He was to have a base salary of $8 million in 2020.

Now there's no new contract next year. Hightower's already 30, so he'll be considered on the down slope of his NFL career.

Smith is already 33. He had signed a one-year, $1,075,000 contract with the Baltimore Ravens, including a $25,000 signing bonus, and just $25,000 guaranteed.

Warmack is only 28, but like Smith is hanging on as a player. His deal with Seattle was one year for $1,047,500, although $137,500 was a roster bonus. 

Unlike baseball, contracts are not fully guaranteed in the NFL. The players have to make the team to get the base salary.

As of midnight, 25 NFL players had opted out. They have until 5 p.m. ET Saturday to do so.

How big is that list going to get?

How big might it get at the collegiate level? 

The two leagues that appear to be having the most success at playing are the ones everyone expected, pro basketball and pro hockey, both of which are about to restart and go into playoff mode.

The two are utilizing the bubble concept, along with the WNBA and soccer's NWSL Challenge Cup that just wrapped up. The idea is to isolate players and teams at central locations, and limit interaction as much as possible. The NBA is in Orlando, while the NHL headed north to Canada. 

Of course, the Canadian government barred baseball's Blue Jays from playing at Rogers Centre because it expressed concerns over MLB's plan to play.

On Tuesday, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN's Tim Bontemps that a bubble may be the only way the league is able to play, and not only complete this season, but next season as well.

"If the bubble is the way to play, then that is likely gonna be the way we play next season if things remain as they are," he said.

College Football 

On Tuesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert expressed his concerns about the upcoming fall sports schedule and said he believes a delayed start and shortened number of games could be "very helpful" to playing.

During an interview with ESPN, Emmert said observing how professional sports handle their return-to-play plans has provided the NCAA with plenty of insight.

"We get to see how the testing protocols emerge and how that can be more effective, especially if we can get antigen testing going, for keeping track of the virus on campuses," he said. "The fact a delay could provide us with time to do all that could be very, very useful.

"Also, the move to a smaller number of games can be really helpful because you've got bigger breaks between games then, and you could provide flexibility around schedules."

Emmert basically confirmed what everyone expects, the Power 5 conferences, one-by-one, to delay the start of their seasons, go with almost entirely league-only schedules and more bye weeks built into the schedule. 

The idea of not having college football start before the NFL is also gaining traction.  

Should all that fail, there's only one more fallback position for college football, to move everything to the spring and hope things get better. 

But none of that factors in the biggest wild-cards of all, the decisions that will soon come from those not in sports. We're talking school presidents, local politicians and state governors, all of whom will play huge roles moving forward. 

2020 SI Swimsuit Edition

You're going to either really like or hate our final rookie profile for SI Swimsuit 2020. 

Brooks Nader is from Baton Rouge, La. If you're wondering if she's a true LSU fan or like a lot of talented football players from there who instead ended up at Alabama, her grandfather is LSU Assistant Athletics Director Dr. Sam Nader.

She loves LSU football. Supposedly almost as much as her husband. 

Nader was part of Sports Illustrated's 2019 open casting call model search, and her rookie shots were taken in Bali.

Another interesting sports connection in the issue is Caroline Marks, a professional surfer from Boca Raton, Fla. She is a multiple national champion and was the youngest female to compete in a World Surf League event. 

In December of 2019, Marks qualified as one of the two women of the USA’s first surfing team to compete in the now-postponed 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Did you notice?

• In case you missed it, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season. The Chiefs’ starting right guard will instead will continue to work as an orderly at a long-term care facility in Canada, helping to fight COVID-19. The Quebec native is one of only four medical-school graduates to play in the NFL and has two years remaining on a five-year, $41.25-million extension he signed in 2017. 

 Why a bubble wouldn't work for the NFL, and how MLB's issues may affect NFL travel. 

 The Life of a Ref in the NHL Bubble

The lighter side 

• A limited-edition baseball card of Dr. Anthony Fauci set a record with more than 50,000 sold.

 With no one to catch them, what's happening to home run balls?

Rich Eisen tells cool story behind a classic ‘This Is SportsCenter’ ad 

• In case you missed it, Adam Duvall’s homer hit the cutout of Jeff McNeil’s dog:

Christopher Walsh's All Things CW notes column regularly appears on BamaCentral 

 

THANKS FOR READING BAMA CENTRAL
Register today for free or log in to access this premium article.
Comments (2)
No. 1-2
Christopher Walsh
Christopher Walsh

Editor

The first player in college football just formally opted out: https://twitter.com/adamschefter/status/1288565880985714693?s=21

Anthony Sisco
Anthony Sisco

Editor

I think the bubble approach has the best
Merit.


All Things Bama

FEATURED
COMMUNITY