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MLB v. NBA: How are Sports Operating?

By Luke Mich

Right now, for the first time ever, four of the biggest professional sports leagues are playing at the same time. Baseball is finishing its regular season, the NFL is just starting theirs and the NHL and NBA are in the midst of league and conference finals. But how did this happen, that all four of these leagues are playing at once?

The Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers fight for the ball on the opening tip. Teams like the Wizards below the playoff line played eight games in the bubble to try to get into a playoff spot. (Source:

When the coronavirus outbreak forced the country into lockdown, including all forms of entertainment such as shows and sporting events, there was talk about when they would return, if at all, this year. As the “Big Four” professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) were put on hold for months, leagues met over virtual calls to discuss the procedures and policies that needed to be enforced in hopes of returning to play. Sure enough, the MLB became the first of the four to return to play, beginning July 23. The NBA and NHL followed soon after, resuming the following week. However, differences in policies regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and mask wearing has led to vastly different results between the MLB and NBA. Here is what led to these differences.

First, the decision each league made about where games would be played was a big factor. The NBA, along with the NHL, settled on playing its remaining games and postseason at a single location. Since July 30, the league has played at the various basketball courts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, just south of Orlando, Fla. The MLB, on the other hand, has allowed teams to host their home games at their own stadiums and travel to play road games at their opponents’ stadiums. This move has led to a greater risk of spreading COVID-19 than playing in a “bubble” has.

Members of the San Diego Padres walk off the field prior to a game early in September. The Padres had games with the San Francisco Giants cancelled on September 12 and 13 due to a positive COVID-19 test. (Source:

Another difference is in how the leagues respond to players breaking protocol by not social distancing, going to public places without a mask, and neglecting to follow other rules regarding COVID-19. The NBA has been strict on players breaking protocol, sending players out of the bubble and back home if they bring in an uninvited guest into the bubble (like Danuel House) or isolating and quarantining players who left the bubble for two weeks before they can play (such as Lou Williams). The MLB has not suspended, isolated or fined players who have broken protocol, which has caused hiccups in the schedule. During opening weekend, an outbreak occurred within the Miami Marlins team, with one positive case the day of their first game before the virus affected 17 players four days later. The outbreak was traced back to at least one player contracting COVID-19 in Atlanta right before the season began, and as a result the team didn’t play another game until a week and a half later. Other outbreaks have occurred, such as one involving the St. Louis Cardinals, when it was reported that some members went out to a casino. Days later, up to 10 players contracted COVID-19, and the Cardinals did not play for two weeks.

Such problems have allowed fans and reporters to criticize the MLB’s inability to strictly enforce social distancing and limit players’ interaction in places that have high risk levels of contracting the virus. With these outbreaks and other positive tests throughout the league, the original league schedule has been completely changed, with a handful of teams playing doubleheaders every few days to make up for the days lost during an already abbreviated season. The NBA, on the other hand, has reported zero positive tests since play resumed, and recently allowed a small number of friends and family per each NBA player for the teams left in the playoff. While the NBA has dealt playing with the COVID-19 pandemic smoothly, the exact opposite has happened with MLB.


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