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A few bumps in the road for the NBA

How’s that season restarting going?

A month ago, superstar players got on a Zoom call and reportedly created a united front to support a safe return to play. A lot has changed since. Last week, the 28 NBPA player representatives all voted in favor of the league’s proposal (which was approved by the board of governors the day before). But a closer look at the NBPA statement shows that the vote was strictly an approval of “further negotiations” with a caveat that “various details” were still to be negotiated.

Now that we’ve arrived at those various details, different parties have started to speak up with dissenting opinions. Last week, commissioner Adam Silver was fielding concerns about whether older coaches would be allowed to sit on the bench. On Wednesday, ESPN reported that a faction of players is hesitant to restart the season because of a policy that wouldn’t allow visitors until the first round of the playoffs, as well as a lack of motivation for teams unlikely to compete for the championship. Yahoo Sports reported Friday that a “significant” number of players were upset about not having a vote in approving the proposal and that some were reluctant to express their opinion to star players who want to play. Kyrie Irving, who is a vice president of the players union, was reported to be pushing for players to reconsider the planned restart.

[…]

One of the main concerns is that some players believe a return to play would detract from the current protest movement prompted by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Some players have already participated in the nationwide protests, and many have spoken out against police brutality on social media, including LeBron James, who yesterday announced plans to form a voting rights group with other athletes and celebrities. Malcolm Brogdon said on The JJ Redick Podcast that there are players who are interested in sitting out the rest of the season as part of a protest. Garrett Temple, meanwhile, told The Ringer that he believed going to Orlando was the right move and that being there a month before tipoff would give players the opportunity to come up with a plan to send a message.

“When you take a stance on things, you do that to bring attention,” said Temple, who is also an NBPA VP and represented the Nets in the player vote. “Then, after that, you have to actually do something to cause change … so whatever we do, it needs to be something that can cause tangible change in our community, in our game, in our country.”

That initial agreement was reached almost two weeks ago. Players were also surprised to find that the Disney/ESPN quarantine “bubble” doesn’t include Disney/ESPN employees, who will come and go from the site as before. Sure looks like a bit of a risk factor there. Even Commissioner Adam Silver is saying there are still issues to work out, and maybe this won’t be for every player. It still seems likely that the NBA will restart, but (no pun intended) it’s not a slam dunk. Things change fast, and time is limited. Until the teams actually start practicing and games get put on the schedule, it’s not a done deal.

Since I mentioned MLB in that earlier update, which at the time looked to be providing a “don’t be like this” contrast to the NBA, here’s one more Fangraphs article to read about how much the players were willing to negotiate versus how much the owners were willing to negotiate. That forthcoming grievance is gonna be something else.

MLS agrees on its restart, WNBA still considering options

More sports coming.

The MLS Players Association voted Wednesday to approve a revised collective bargaining agreement with the league. The new deal will run through 2025 and clears the way for Major League Soccer to resume its 2020 season via a single-site format in Orlando, Fla.

“I can’t give any further specifics on that Orlando concept,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a video conference with media. “That was a very, very big part of our discussions with our players. …We were fortunate to be able to finalize an agreement, as the union announced early this morning.”

Garber said details regarding the competition in Orlando, including format and dates, will be released later, but it is expected to be a tournament lasting no longer than 35 days. It will be conducted at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which is where the NBA is planning to finish its season.

The commissioner also reiterated his commitment to finishing the season, even if that means pushing the MLS playoffs into 2021.

See here for the background. As noted, the NWSL is already set to return, on June 27. The NBA will be using the same ESPN facility, and I have yet to see how the logistics of that will be handled. I’m sure someone has a plan for it.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is still figuring things out.

The WNBA is considering playing its season at an MGM Resorts International property if it has a season this year, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The other location under consideration is IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The league announced the suspension of its season in April amid the coronavirus pandemic and has not decided on a start date. Operational details of a possible start are not clear, but the league would use a single site — much like the NBA.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the AP on Tuesday that the league has discussed a variety of options but did not confirm whether Las Vegas or IMG Academy were possible locations.

“We’re looking at the pros and cons of a number of different locations,” Engelbert told the AP.

The WNBA hadn’t actually started its season yet – like MLB, it was still in its preseason when it suspended activities. If the WNBA chooses to play its games in Las Vegas, they may have some company in the form of the National Hockey League, which is considering Vegas among a list of other cities to play its games; like the NBA, the NHL season was suspended just before playoffs were to begin. Again, I’m sure someone will figure out how to handle multiple leagues and all their people sharing the same facility. I’m just trying to stay on top of the news here.

NBA sets a plan, MLB still working it out

Happening today.

The NBA is finalizing details of a plan which is expected to be approved by the league’s Board of Governors on Thursday, paving the way for a return from the coronavirus shutdown.

The board is poised to give the green light to commissioner Adam Silver’s return of basketball which would begin July 31 with a 22-team format, and end in mid-October with a champion being crowned, ESPN reported.

The plan requires support from three quarters of the league’s 30 teams in order to be approved.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Nets and Orlando Magic currently hold the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies occupy the postseason positions in the Western Conference.

Under the plan, each of the 22 teams will play eight regular-season games for seeding purposes for the postseason.

The 16 teams currently in the playoff picture will be joined by the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference.

In the East, the Washington Wizards are also included.

[…]

All games are expected to be within the confines of Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando Florida, with all teams remaining on site to minimise risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.

See here for the background. ESPN adds a bit more:

Life in the NBA bubble will be governed by a set of safety protocols. While players and coaches will be allowed to golf or eat at outdoor restaurants, they will also need to maintain social distancing, sources told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

The NBA is planning to have uniform, daily testing for the coronavirus within the Disney campus environment, sources told ESPN. ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Company.

If a player tests positive for the virus, the league’s intent would be to remove that player from the team to quarantine and treat individually — and continue to test other team members as they play on, sources said.

Employees at the Disney resort will have to maintain similar protocols. For example, no staff will be allowed into players’ rooms, and hallways will be carefully managed to avoid crowding, sources told Shelburne.

Weird, but the NBA had played the bulk of its season anyway, and the playoffs are always a different thing entirely. I just hope those employees at the Disney resort had someone thinking about their welfare as this deal was being hammered out. The Chron has more.

And then there’s MLB:

Major League Baseball has rejected the players’ offer for a 114-game regular season with no additional salary cuts and told the union it did not plan to make a counterproposal, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Players made their proposal Sunday, up from an 82-game regular season in management’s offer last week. Opening Day would be June 30, and the regular season would end Oct. 31, nearly five weeks after the Sept. 27 conclusion that MLB’s proposal stuck to from the season’s original schedule.

MLB told the union it had no interest in extending the season into November, when it fears a second wave of the coronavirus could disrupt the postseason and jeopardize $787 million in broadcast revenue.

While management has suggested it could play a short regular season of about 50 games with no more salary reductions, it has not formally proposed that concept. Earlier this week, multiple players told ESPN that they would not abide a shorter schedule, with one saying, “We want to play more games, and they want to play less. We want more baseball.”

See here for the previous update. If this sounds dire to you, let me refer you again to Eugene Freedman, who’s been around this block a few times.

Basically, it looks like the sides have agreed to the March deal, and now need to work out the safety and testing details, plus what to do if a player wants to opt out. Maybe the NBA getting set to start at the end of July will inspire them to agree on some version of their July 4 Opening Day season. Fingers crossed. The Chron has more.

The NBA inches closer to a return

We’ll know more soon.

NBA teams are expecting the league office will issue guidelines around June 1 that will allow franchises to start recalling players who’ve left their markets as a first step toward a formal ramp-up for the season’s resumption, sources told ESPN.

Teams expect a similar timeline from the league on when they’ll be allowed to expand individual workouts already underway with in-market players to include more team personnel, sources said.

The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is discussing a step-by-step plan for a resumption of the season that includes an initial two-week recall of players into team marketplaces for a period of quarantine, one to two weeks of individual workouts at team facilities, and a two- to three-week formal training camp, sources told ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, many NBA owners, executives and National Basketball Players Association elders believe commissioner Adam Silver will green-light the return to play in June — with games expected to resume sometime before the end of July, sources said.

The NBA is still considering a two-site format for the return of the season, including Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Las Vegas, sources said.

See here for some background. That story was from Thursday. As of Saturday, things had progressed a bit further.

The NBA is going to Disneyworld. Or at least, it hopes to save its season and declare a champion in a single-site scenario outside of Orlando.

In the most public sign yet that the NBA is hopeful that it can resume its 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league has begun exploratory talks with the Walt Disney Company about using its venue in central Florida to hold practices and games without fans present.

“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” Bass said in a statement.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”

The MLS is also looking at Orlando, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility. I don’t know how much that might complicate the logistics, but one presumes they will figure it out. The Chron had reported earlier in the week that the Toyota Center in Houston had been in the discussion as a potential venue, but that is apparently no longer in play. It’s possible the NBA will go straight into a playoff system, or it may play some more regular season games but eliminate the teams with the worst records to limit the number of people required to be there. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

As you know, Major League Baseball has also been working on a season-starting proposal, though in typical fashion the owners are making up claims about financial losses in an attempt to back out of the previous agreement with the players and squeeze them on salaries. I suspect this will get resolved at some point, in which case we may suddenly have a lot of sports coming back to us. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t a big post-reopening spike in infections or other insurmountable obstacle. But if things go as the optimists hope, we could go from no sports to a fairly full slate in a hurry. We’ll see.

MLS has a plan to start its season

That’s Major League Soccer, and their plan may sound a bit familiar.

With no indications of when it could resume the season in home markets, MLS has proposed placing all 26 teams in the Orlando area this summer and playing competitive matches without spectators at the Disney sports complex and possibly other locations, multiple people familiar with the plan said.

The players, coaches and support staff, numbering more than 1,000, would live under quarantine at one of the large resorts near Disney World for an undetermined length of time, said those people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

Teams would practice and play primarily at ESPN Wide World of Sports, which sits on 220 acres as part of Disney’s massive footprint in central Florida. Disney-owned ESPN is one of MLS’s broadcast partners.

[…]

The league is expected to accelerate plans over the next two weeks and set the framework for resuming a season that, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, was shuttered after two weekends.

In jurisdictions where such activities are permitted, several teams have begun voluntary individual workouts, including the Dynamo in Houston. The league has postponed all matches until at least June 8, though the realistic timetable stretches deeper into the summer.

MLS hopes to soon allow players to begin training as part of small groups in local markets, a step the Bundesliga took last month before ramping up operations. The elite German circuit, along with the country’s second division, will resume this weekend with matches played without spectators.

Other European soccer leagues have also made plans to restart their seasons in the coming weeks.

Under its Orlando plan, MLS would welcome teams for workouts and multiple matches per day, which ESPN platforms would carry. It’s unclear whether the league’s other TV partners, Fox Sports and Univision, would show games.

This story came from the Washington Post. This plan is kinda sorta like the original Major League Baseball plan, which would have had all the games played in Arizona; that plan has now morphed into something that would have games played in most league cities. As with MLB, this plan would include games in an empty facility, isolating all the players and other personnel needed for the games – which means they would be away from their families for several months – and regular testing, with some contingency in reserve for if/when there’s a positive test. Money will be an issue, and while the state of Florida is “reopening”, sports facilities like ESPN Wide World of Sports are not yet included in that. So, fair to say, there are still details to iron out. But if you’ve been waiting for news about a sport other than baseball, there you go.

Austin wins X Games

Congrats, Austin.

The X Games are going from the glitz of Los Angeles to deep in the heart of Texas.

Athletes with skateboards and motorcycles will be competing in the Texas capital after ESPN announced Wednesday that Austin will be the next North American host city for the X Games.

“Austin over the last several years has really become synonymous with supporting big events,” said Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president, ESPN programming and X Games. “The music scene is fantastic. The night life is fantastic and definitely a young, active town.”

Austin also has the new Circuit of the Americas sports and entertainment complex, which will be the primary site for X Games Austin. The 1,500-acre complex opened in November by hosting the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix and held a MotoGP motorcycle race in April.

Austin was selected over three other finalists: Chicago, Detroit and Charlotte, N.C. There were initially 13 qualified bids for the Olympic-style selection process, with Austin picked to host for four years starting next May 15-18.

“X Games is a great action sports competition and is an ideal fit for the city of Austin, which has a tremendous fitness orientation, a tremendous action sports community,” said Steve Sexton, president of Circuit of the Americas.

See here for some background. Well done, Austin. Hope you enjoy the experience. If nothing else, at least you’ll have something else to complain about after SXSW ends.

One good thing will come out of Craig James’ Senate campaign

He apparently won’t be brought back by ESPN. Sportwriters and fans alike rejoice.

Are you ready for the Sooner Network?

Sure, why not?

Reporters were given a tour Tuesday of the university’s SoonerVision HD production rooms that have been expanded through $5 million in improvements in recent years. With fiber-optic cables connecting the school’s athletic venues to side-by-side control rooms, Oklahoma plans to broadcast and webcast dozens more sporting events this year in high definition.

“It allows us to do broadcast quality. That’s the thing I don’t think a lot of people realize is that five years ago our webcasts were one camera at a game, at a volleyball match, and we’re still doing some of that,” said Brandon Meier, the executive director of video production.

“Now more of our webcasts are going to look like broadcasts that you’re going to see at home with all of the bells and whistles and the replays and the score bug. We’ve gone from the one-camera setup to the 32-person broadcast setup to make that happen.”

The expansion is another step toward the school’s ultimate goal of launching its own around-the-clock network in a quickly expanding television marketplace for college sports.

The Big Ten’s lucrative network is being joined by a series of Pac-12 channels and the Longhorn Network, created through a $300 million deal between Texas and ESPN.

As compared to those endeavors, Oklahoma has a part-time network. It produces and broadcasts dozens of live basketball games and events from Olympic sports on television, and offers other live sporting events through an online All-Access package that charges subscribers about $10 a month or $100 a year.

Spokesman Kenny Mossman said eventually the university hopes to “dovetail” its online offerings into its own TV channel.

I’m sure they do. They’re probably making a few bucks from those All Access packages in the meantime, too. Say what you want about the Longhorn Network, I do agree with their assertion that everyone will be doing something like this sooner or later.

Why not start the Aggie Network?

Kirk Bohls raises an interesting point.

It’s hard to blame Texas for having the wherewithal and desire to start its own network and reap $15 million a year off it for the next 20 years. It’s not the Longhorns’ fault they’ve won four national championships in football and two Heisman trophies, and are one of the most recognizable brands from Rome, Italy to Paris, Texas.

And Texas isn’t alone in this. Kansas State just announced it’s starting its own digital network. Oklahoma wants to. Magnus said Missouri’s looking into it.

So is Notre Dame, which is interesting since that could facilitate it joining the Big 12, no matter what A&M does, because the Big Ten Network supposedly would preclude it from taking Notre Dame with a Notre Dame network. The Big 12 could accept the Irish.

Texas A&M should start its own network, too. Lots of Aggies out there.

“The opportunities are just huge for each (Big 12) institution,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. “I think as time goes by, we’ll all learn how to better those opportunities and get past somebody having a network. I think in 30 years, the Big 12 will look smart for doing it this way.”

I think that’s probably right. I also think that if, say, LSU or Alabama or Florida gets an offer from ESPN to start their own network, they’ll jump on it with both feet. What will A&M do if that happens? Better to look for opportunities than whine about threats. Go for it, Aggies.

It’s “The Longhorn Network” for a reason

Branding, y’all. It’s called branding. And I don’t mean what they do to cattle. Though I suppose that is sort of what’s happening here, now that I think about it.

Opponents’ views of Texas’ new cable network venture with ESPN have quickly escalated from concern to apprehension to resentment. Texas A&M’s board of regents will be discussing the Longhorn Network in executive session Thursday. Unconfirmed rumors suggested A&M and Oklahoma were eyeing the Southeastern Conference.

Texas officials tried to reassure the Big 12 and its conference rivals about the 24/7 cable network this week. UT participated in conference calls with conference athletic directors Monday and presidents Wednesday to allay fears about the network’s scope.

Commissioner Dan Beebe announced a temporary compromise Wednesday. Telecasts of high school football games on the Longhorn Network are now on hold, pending decisions by the NCAA and the Big 12 about how to handle school and conference networks. The Big 12 also delayed the possibility of a conference game on the Longhorn Network, announced earlier this month as part of a side deal with Fox.

“It’s not going to happen until and unless the conference can make it happen with benefit to all and detriment to none,” Beebe said.

[…]

Anxiety skyrocketed in early June after Austin’s 104.9 FM interviewed Dave Brown, the Longhorn Network’s vice president for programming and acquisitions. His responses seemed to confirm the worst fears that the Longhorn Network would zoom from zero to overkill with 18 high school games on Thursdays and Saturdays. Brown specifically mentioned star Aledo running back Johnathan Gray, who has orally committed to Texas but not signed a letter of intent.

“I know people are going to want to see Johnathan Gray. I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray,” Brown told the station. “Feedback we got from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run — whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray.”

I don’t know about those “unconfirmed rumors” regarding A&M, OU, and the SEC, but A&M President Loftin Bowin was quite clear about their school’s unhappiness with this.

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin used the term “uncertainty” time and again Thursday in describing the state of the league, thanks to the start of the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network in Austin next month.

“The (recent) announcement by ESPN that the Longhorn Network might carry a conference (football) game in addition to a nonconference game was troubling, and then following right after that was ESPN’s announcement regarding high school games would be televised as well,” Loftin said. “Both of those we believe provide a great deal of uncertainty right now for us and the conference.”

[…]

Loftin said the LHN has no business showing Big 12 football games, and especially high school games that might target top recruits.

“If (they show) one conference game, then maybe we have two or three,” Loftin said. “High school games are very problematic. … If we have an unequal playing field for various schools (concerning recruiting), we think that is a problem. That creates uncertainty.”

Meanwhile ESPN and A&M athletic director Bill Byrne chimed in on the suddenly touchy subject Thursday.

“We recognize more discussions need to take place to properly address the questions raised by the conference,” ESPN said in a statement. “This is uncharted territory for all involved, so it’s logical for everyone to proceed carefully.”

What I don’t understand is why this is “suddenly” a touchy subject. The UIL has had its eyes on the Longhorn Network from the beginning. Was nobody else thinking about the implications of this at that time? Good luck cramming that genie back into the lamp now, that’s all I can say.