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Pandemic's 2nd wave disrupts US sports schedules

With cases spiking around the country, COVID-19 continues to disrupt major team sports in the U.S.

The following is a scorecard for where leagues stand relative to the health concerns posed by the pandemic, which is delaying the start of seasons and impacting other campaigns.


Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL is looking into a range of options to reduce the need for travel and health risks for attendees.

Speaking at the 2020 Paley International Council Summit on Nov. 10, Bettman, who has previously pointed to a Jan. 1, 2021, start, said games would be played in teams' home arenas, without fans in some locations. Contests could be played in stretches of 10 to 12, with teams only returning to their families at the end rather than between games.

Bettman said the league and its players have to consider alternative ways to play, given its seven Canadian franchises. Non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada is currently restricted.

The NHL finished the 2019-20 season and held its Stanley Cup Playoffs in so-called bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto from July 25 through Sept. 28.

NBCUniversal Media LLC's NBC Sports is the national rights-holder for NHL games in the U.S.


A number of American football games were rescheduled as players tested positive for the coronavirus, and this looks set to continue. Currently, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger is one of four Steelers that had close contact with a player that tested positive. All five may be forced to sit out the Nov. 15 contest against Cincinnati in FOX (US)'s high-rated late Sunday afternoon window. Pittsburgh is the league's only unbeaten team.

To safeguard against potential game cancellations, NFL owners on Nov. 10 unanimously approved the expansion of the playoff field from 14 to 16 in certain cases — with eight teams each from the American and National Football Conferences. The league could also add an extra week to its season.

The expanded playoff field had already grown from 12 to 14 games with CBS (US) and NBC (US) paying an estimated $75 million apiece for their extra Wild Card telecast.

College Football

Positive coronavirus tests and contact tracing has also caused postponements and cancellations at the College football level. Four Southeastern Conference games this weekend are impacted, including the matchup between No. 1 Alabama and the struggling defending champion, LSU. A perennial ratings winner, the matchup was to lead out of CBS' third round coverage of The Masters golf tourney, delayed by the pandemic since April.

At least three other games were canceled or postponed in the week beginning Nov. 9.

The Pac-12 Conference elected to play a seven–game, conference-only slate that kicked off Nov. 7, but saw a pair of opening weekend contests — Arizona-Utah and Washington-California — canceled.

The Big Ten Conference, which also delayed the start of its football season, has seen Wisconsin miss two games, while No. 3 Ohio State will not play Maryland on Nov. 14 because of the pandemic.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, was sidelined by a positive test and his Tigers fell from the top spot with a road loss to Notre Dame. The Nov. 7 telecast drew a total average audience of nearly 10.2 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen Holdings PLC and Adobe Analytics, making it the most-watched college football game of the season and the second-most-viewed in NBC's 30 years of airing Notre Dame games.


The NBA board of governors on Nov. 10 unanimously approved an agreement in principle to start a 72-game regular season slate on Dec. 22.

That is down from a typical 82-game slate, and the plan calls for the games to take place at the 30 clubs' home arenas. There have been discussions about playing before limited groups of fans.

Commissioner Adam Silver had been looking at a January 2021 start, but with the virus' second wave, pushed instead for a December start with an eye toward playing as many games as possible to secure rights fees from national holders The Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN (US) and ABC (US) ABC and Warner Media LLC's TNT (US), as well as regional sports networks.

The league also wants to finish its season by July so its players can participate in the rescheduled Tokyo Summer Olympics and get on track to begin an 82-game campaign for the 2021-22 season in its usual time frame of late October and early November.