Voiding sports seasons unfair to players, fans


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Soccer match between Juventus and Inter Milan played without spectators in Milan, Italy on March 9.

In the midst of a global pandemic, sports can, or should, seem almost trivial. However, as sports-related television such as “The Last Dance” documentary or the NFL Draft has smashed viewership records, sports still seem a very relevant part of our lives. Given the importance that professional sports and the storylines within them hold for people all across the world, current sports seasons should not be canceled, as it is unfair to the fans, and more importantly the players.

“The Last Dance,” a documentary about Michael Jordan and the Bulls 1997-1998 season that premiered on April 19, averaged 6.1 million viewers over its first two episodes, the highest-viewed original content broadcast on ESPN since 2004. Furthermore, the NFL Draft, which was conducted online April 23-25, with commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks from his own home, averaged 8.4 million viewers. This is the highest viewed NFL Draft of all time and a 37% increase from 2019, demonstrating just how highly invested fans are in professional sports.

Before discussing why sports seasons should not be canceled, it is important to understand that this does not mean they should not be delayed due to health concerns, as they absolutely should be. The decisions to suspend sports leagues were absolutely correct. Professional athletes such as Rudy Gobert, Kevin Durant and Paulo Dybala have all had COVID-19, and Karl Anthony-Towns’, the center for the Minnesota Timberwolves, lost his mother to the virus. There was not and as of right now is not any possible way for professional sports to return, even without fans, without a significant risk of spreading the virus.

When sports leagues do return, they should pick up where they left off rather than start a new season, as fans and players deserve a proper conclusion. In the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers, led by LeBron James, sat atop the Western Conference with a record of 49-14, and James’ quest for a fourth title was the dominant storyline of the NBA season. A fourth title and possible MVP award could be pivotal in the debate between him or Michael Jordan being the greatest player of all time. James himself said during a conference call with reporters in April that “I don’t think I’ll be able to have any closure if we do not have an opportunity to finish the season.”

Of course, the season would end much later than usual as numerous months of playtime will have been lost, but next season could easily be shortened to get back on schedule. There is precedent for this as well, as the 2011-2012 season was shortened from 82 games to 66 due to a players lockout, which took off about two months of the season.

In England’s British Premier League soccer, the stakes are even higher than that of the NBA. The Premier League consists of 20 teams and 38 games a season, where three points are earned for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. Rather than a playoff system, the league champion is decided by who amasses the most points throughout the season.

In the current standings, Liverpool is at the top of the league with 82 points with only nine games to go. Behind them is Manchester City with 57 points with ten games to go, meaning Liverpool have nearly mathematically won the league. Liverpool is a club that is infamous for blowing leads, and this would be their first title in 30 years. Voiding the season when they are so close to a victory would be a crushing ending for the players and supporters.

Instead of voiding the season, Liverpool could simply be awarded the title right now, as there is no playoff process to determine a winner, and losing the title now would be nearly impossible. Even if Manchester City wins its last 10 games, Liverpool would only have to win two of them to still win the title. However, seeing as it is still theoretically possible for them to not win the league, this would be held against them by rival clubs supporters, claiming the title is not valid. Surely this is an ill-fitting ending for what many consider the greatest Premier League team of all time.

There is no perfect solution for bringing back these leagues. Fans may have to stay home for a period of time, and the end times and start times of seasons will most certainly change, and the following season will likely be impacted in some way. But in such a time of uncertainty, when many of the things that people enjoy being taken away, professional athletes have the opportunity to bring people together, and they should be given the opportunity to do so.