Live, and silent, sports return

No fans in the stands will make things interesting

Are you a sports fan? I am. I’m sure some of you are aware of my love of curling, but I don’t mind watching any other sport either.

Especially the playoffs. I don’t get too into the regular seasons of hockey or basketball, because really… they play so many games to eliminate so few teams before the playoffs begin. The regular season just seems meaningless.

But I have missed sports the past three or four months. The repeats of classic matches on the sports networks were okay for a while, but you can’t beat the thrill of live sports.

And we’ve now received the gift of both hockey and basketball playoff tournaments, and I must confess to being slightly excited.

NHL hockey returned on Saturday, with 24 teams beginning the qualifying round.

It is one confusing format, played out of two hub cities, Edmonton and Toronto. Players have been put in their bubbles in each of the two cities and COVID-19 testing results so far have been encouraging.

Here’s what’s coming up.

• Round Robin: The top 4 teams play for First Round seeding (regular-season overtime rules in effect)

• Qualifying Round: The remaining 8 teams play best-of-5 series to advance to the First Round (playoff overtime rules in effect)

* The winners from the Qualifying Round play the top 4 seeds in the First Round. Individual First Round series matchups remain to be determined.

• First Round and Second Round: Format (seeding vs. bracket) and series lengths will be best-of-seven.

• Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final: Best-of-7 series will take place at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

So, I think I’ll just tune in to the games and watch it all shake out, cuz that is complicated.

The NHL finals are tentatively scheduled to begin September 22.

No less complicated is NBA basketball. The qualified teams have been quarantined at Disney World in Florida. I must admit that with Florida being the epicentre of COVID-19 in the U.S. that may not have been the state I would have picked, but what do I know? Just like hockey, testing results have been pretty good as the players stick to the bubble.

A play in tournament has begun, followed by the first round of the playoffs. Round two begins on August 31, with conference finals beginning September 15 and the finals starting September 30. It all should be wrapped up by mid October.

This is all assuming that all these young men adhere to the protocols, and stay in their bubbles, and there aren’t too many positive tests.

The whole thing is an experiment really.

One thing I was rather interested in is finding out is how much visceral enjoyment I get out of sports from the presence of screaming fans in the stands. Cheering crowds are a big part of the sports package and these playoffs are going ahead without spectators in the stands. It is sure to be interesting.

The NHL is broadcasting crowd noise for the TV viewers. The NBA has added cgi fans for a few rows above the court with the rest of the arena blacked out. It’s different, for sure.

How much motivation do the players themselves derive from the cheers? They are professionals and will give their best, but I wonder how it feels to them to play in silence except for the squeak of sneakers on the court or a blade on the ice? And a coach or teammates yelling in the background of course. The first few games exhibited no lack of intensity.

But I think of the start to NHL playoff games, especially in Canada, where the whole crowd sings the anthem. It has to fire the players up. I think they’ll miss it.

We’ve had a taste of no crowds with Major League Baseball already started, and I have to admit it’s odd.

Now baseball is trying to go ahead without a bubble. Teams are travelling the country (U.S.) to play each other and it’s not working out very well.

The Miami Marlins had 18 players test positive as of last Thursday. Games have been postponed, not just Marlin games, but games of teams who played the Marlins recently. And now the St. Louis Cardinals have had two players test positive, with more being added daily. It’s developing into quite the mess and it is putting the ability to finish even a shortened season into jeopardy.

The bubble concept is one that has a chance of succeeding and fans desperate for a taste of their favourite sport are, I’m sure, hoping against hope that it does.

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