While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman outlined the league’s pending return to the ice Tuesday, the news began to pop on social media. The baseball players’ union has balked at Major League Baseball’s follow-up proposal, the sides are far apart, and a lot of work remains.
Multiple reports provided the same damning news. Tuesday was previously targeted to deliver some progress since the league’s initial proposal of a 50-50 revenue split was a known non-starter in the players’ view. The second proposal apparently did little to bring the sides closer financially. A significant divide on health protocols also remains, according to reports.
Meanwhile, the clock ticks.
The agreement reached in March -- when spring training stopped and the influence of coronavirus was being better understood -- took roughly two weeks. The climate then was comparatively jovial. Two sides who were long fighting each other realized they needed to be calm and focus on a swift deal to set basic parameters. So, they developed an agreement the players now feel is steadfast and owners feel is malleable.
Which brings the sides back together in late May. They are scrambling. The calendar is setting a crunch on both ends. The later the season starts, the longer it has to go to produce an amount of revenue the players find reasonable. The longer it has to go, the larger the chances it is compromised by a spike of the virus, the weather or unmanageable logistical hurdles. Last, the further the season stretches in 2020, the shorter the break between the end of the year and spring training in 2021.
Bettman’s comments included a telling timeline. The NHL will not open training camps before July 1. That is when MLB thought it could begin playing games. The league is also using two hub cities for the resumption of what will be their version of the “playoffs” this year. Baseball is trying to play in all 30 host cities. Bettman said the NHL has not determined when the actual games will start because the league will be waiting to see how efforts to contain the virus will proceed. Baseball wants to be full steam ahead in five weeks.
And, remember spring training is a three-week minimum for the players. That’s four starts for starting pitchers. The players will deem that important because they are taking dual risks: they are worried about injury when running back to play; they are worried about their health as it relates to coronavirus.
Could an agreement be reached in the next 10 days, immediately starting cars and sending players onto flights? Yes. Could they be ready by July 1 or the July 4th weekend? Possibly. Is this over? Far from it.
But, is any of that likely? It seems less so after Tuesday.
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