MLB is taking perhaps the most conservative — some might say honest — planning route as it prepares for the 2020 season. An agreement with the players’ association set a standard for the league to follow in the aftermath of its decision to postpone the season, which would have begun this week. Those standards include waiting until fans are allowed back into stadiums, until travel restrictions have been lifted, and until it’s clear it won’t pose a health risk to teams and fans.
Jeff Passan of ESPN reported on the agreement on Friday:
These are the first set of guidelines reported publicly from any major American sports league, as the NBA rifles through several imaginative scenarios and the WNBA remains optimistic its smaller reach could help it return to the floor earlier. MLB suspended operations on March 12, two weeks prior to Opening Day, in response to the growing outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the United States.
As part of the agreement, MLB and its players reportedly will also leave open the possibility of neutral-site games and empty stadiums, should it become unfeasible to bring fans together as a live audience. The current recommendation from the U.S. Center for Disease Control is that all events of 10 or more people should be canceled or held virtually. There’s a long way to go before crowds can fill Yankee Stadium.
Still, MLB has been earnestly negotiating how the season might play out, and could benefit from the U.S. outbreak occurring before baseball’s regular season started. It gives them more time (and perhaps less urgency) to patiently plan.