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FILE - In this March 26, 2020, file photo, Jason Hackedorn looks into Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, in Cleveland. With the distinct possibility of pro sports resuming in empty venues, a recent poll suggests a majority of U.S. fans wouldn't feel safe attending games anyway without a coronavirus vaccine.(AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Not funny

Normally we just get to work. Fire a headline and start rapid-firing thoughts and takes and talking points and movie references in an effort to make you think or laugh or some of each.

Today is a little different. Strike that.

Today is a lot different.

Today, it truly feels like the sports world has edged to the brink of the stark reality that 2020 may be a wash for way more sports teams — and leagues — than we ever imagined.

Without getting into the harsh numbers of cases and deaths — not downplaying those important facts, mind you — looking across the landscape of sports Tuesday night/this morning made me realize that the "When they return" conversation undersold the hurdles, logistics and real-life issues that had to be solved.

With that in mind, we're going to spend the first two segments of our morning conversation on sports and The Corona. It's a serious topic, and I will try to choose my words accordingly. (But, hey, who knows when a Raising Arizona reference may appear.)

Thoughts are always welcome, and mind you don't cut yourself Mordecai.

Scorecard for the major sports as we see it:

> NASCAR. Start your engines folks, they drop the flag this weekend and then plan or racing every other hour for the next 10 days. (Truly, they will race Sunday at 3:30 on Fox, then race Wednesday at 7:30, with both at Darlington. Sunday, May 24 is at Charlotte at 6 with another Charlotte race Wednesday, May 27. That's five races from May 17 to May 31.) NASCAR's long-term future — considering the closing ranks of advertisers and the draining pond of discretionary money on all levels of America — could very well rest on how many new fans the sport can generate in this sports vacuum. Not trying to overstate that, but does anyone disagree with that? (Side question: If Kevin Harvick is angry because Kyle Busch is Kyle Busch and they decide to have words after the race, are they going to have to throw things at each other, because if you are truly socially distancing, you can't be throwing punches?) Best case return: Sunday. Likelihood of returning: 100 percent (and 160 mph Nodoy sleeps naked in this house boy.)

> PGA. The unknown has truly motivated the leadership of golf across the world to make sure they can get back on the course. As we mentioned before, sports driven on sponsorships every bit as much if not more so than TV revenue certainly feel the pressure to get back to work. Simply put, the longer the public goes without — and the longer these companies have without writing seven-figure title sponsor checks — well, that absence will make those wallets grow fatter. As for viewing habits, well, this here's the TV. Two hours a day, either educational or football, so you don't ruin your appreciation of the finer things. Golf leaders are looking at significant testing, renting private jets to keep players and caddies isolated and very limited crowds in attendance. Return date: June 11 in Texas. Likelihood of return: 100 percent, like Alejandro making birdie on No. 10 at Still Waters.  

> MLB. I believe the outside pressure is starting to truly affect the MLB players association and the negotiators from each side discussing the details of the first owners' proposal have to understand that. It's not like these balloons blow up into funny shapes at all. In the first round of talks, all of the talks from the MLBPA were about testing and health. That's a good sign. Hey, I understand both sides — the owners are taking a bath financially and refuse to take that bath alone; the players are dead-set against anything resembling revenue sharing/salary cap — of this discussion. But both sides of that discussion better understand that if baseball refuses to play/go back to work because of labor disputes and salaries demands in an industry when the working class (players) average $4.4 million per as 30 percent of the country may be facing unemployment, baseball may never recover. Think of it this way: How many people do you know that quit the NFL for an extended period because Kaepernick did not stand for the anthem? Now how many people would quit baseball if labor issues bagged a baseball season at a time when we wanted baseball more than ever? (There's a side question on baseball and salary cap below. Mighty fine cereal flakes Ms. McDonnough.) Best case of return: Early July; Likelihood of return: 90-plus percent.

> NBA. The NBA felt sliding away, with multiple analysts and experts such as Shaq O'Neal calling for the league to punt and focus on 2020-21. This story expresses optimism after hearing Adam Silver on a conference call earlier this week. But the league that in large part opened everyone's eyes to the seriousness of this and the idea of shutting down entirely when Rudy Gobert tested positive in early March — seriously, early March feels like, what, three years ago? — had been trending in the opposite direction. And with the contact of players, basketball more than any of the current in-season sports, has the greatest chance of one case turning into several if not dozens. Plus, all of the above sports other than the NBA have more advanced return plans circulating. You hear that? We're using code names. The NBA is devoid of any fine-tuned rules and only big-picture wants. Plus, the NBA also has to wonder how long it can push backward without it having an effect on the 2020-21 season. Best case of return: Early July. Likelihood of return: 75 percent, and that may be optimistic.

> Soccer. Because of the global reach — and the wide array of case circumstances around the world — soccer's return is way more scattered than any other. Heck, there are leagues that have powered through this entire time. And the balance beyond travel and guidelines of varying governmental entities and player safety and desires of clubs and fans make this one a Rubik's cube that seems downright impossible to solve. Best case of return: Yes and no. Likelihood of return: Entirely, zero; locally and/or regionally, well, it's already there.  
   
 

And now for the ripples

Please notice that football was not mentioned above. That was on purpose.

The NFL will do everything in its power to plow through. I firmly believe that, and I firmly believe that there will be enough players who waive their rights to go play.

Heck, we want our NFL gladiators to sacrifice years off their lives under ideal circumstances, do you really think those willing to collide with super-human grown men at super-human speeds are worried about contracting the Corona? Some may be and they will be missed, but their spots will be quickly filled by people who are longing to make that kind of coin, regardless of the risk.

And the NFL is better suited than all other sports combined — with the possible exception of Premier League in European soccer — to go without fans because of monster TV deals.

The college football discussion is much-more nuanced, and we'll get to those in a moment.

Above we mentioned the sponsorship pauses and details that should scare everyone at all levels of sports, because of the dollars at stake, be it in terms of partnerships, TV spots and spokesman deals with stars.

It's a dire conundrum that makes me wonder, well which is it young feller: You want I should freeze or get down on the ground?

And it's even greater for the levels below the elite teams and organizations in each sport.

Here's an interesting story from AP that was in today's TFP, and it is a scary tale for minor league sports that simply can not operate without fans.

From that story is this passage, and think of the impact, big picture, it could have on the three minor league teams that call Chattanooga home: "Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist agreed with Green that ownership will affect which teams survive. He also pointed to the ill-fated second attempt by the XFL as a cautionary tale. 'Some of the younger leagues that are out there I think are really, really fragile,' Zimbalist said. 'I suspect that we're going to see a lot of organizations and some leagues going out of business.'"

New leagues and teams? That hits directly on the local pitch with the Red Wolves in their infancy as a club and the long-time Chattanooga FC in a new professional league that was a game into its season.

As for the Lookouts, well, their tenuous status has been bandied about since December, and a lost season certainly will hurt.

All of this overlaps into the habits of fans as well. We all know dollars will be tighter for everyone with rising unemployment and shrinking local budgets because of decreased tax collections.

That will force some tough decisions for the rank-and-file sports fan who has had Georgia football season tickets for a decade or made a point to go to 10 Braves games a year or (fill in the blank) sports habit that they really didn't miss all that much when forced to skip it.  

 

Then there's college  

The American sports version of the Rubik's cube that is the soccer solutions is clearly college sports.

Consider the details and hurdles:

> You have the power football leagues that are going to do everything possible to play because of the financial implications big-picture inside the athletic departments and in their surrounding communities;

> You have the understandable and common sense query of "How can we ask student-athletes to play if schools do not feel safe asking students to attend classes in person?" And that's an unanswerable question really. And dear Lord, could we see situations in which university leaders are coerced into bringing students back just so we can bring the football players back? Wow, talk about the tailback wagging the dog;

> You have university systems facing decisions like the one Cal State made earlier this week and already announcing Fall semester will be online only;

> You have the travel issue as well as so many other logistical details that have layers upon layers that just start with the schedule;

> You have the minor-league headache from above that is the reality for UTC in which games without fans — other than the big-dollar trips to Power Five foes — does not make sense or cents. And if the big boys go conference only, then that's a six-figure hole in a SoCon budget that will be painful;

> You have the big-picture optics of asking teams of 85 18-to-23-year-olds to carry the freight for hundreds of adults making millions of dollars in college football, thousands of other student-athletes who are getting an education and tens of thousands of working adults who have jobs supporting and profiting from the glory of college football. And we're asking those 18-to-23-year-olds to do it for nothing more than tuition and books and a ticket at a great meal plan, and to do it in an unprecedented time of national pandemic;

(On that last one, I know a lot of smart folks and a lot of great sports writers who long for the days of the good-ol' college sports model, and I understand that. I also understand that we undervalue in some ways what a scholarship is truly worth in terms of today's loan-crazed society. But that above paragraph and the dollar-generating power of these football players is beyond the scope of any accountant and the imagined reach of any city planner of political analyst. And if you think the 'cost of an education' is enough for that sacrifice, feel free to add a rider to Dabo or Saban or Kirby's contract after a run at a natty that, "Hey, let's give you and your staff a kicking' bonus: You finish in the top 3 nationally, and we'll give you a seat in any class you want and all the books that will require. Deal?" PUH-lease.)

I don't mean to be the Debby Downer here, but the striking reality hit me last night between "Billions" as I wondered who would be pitching for the Braves if I wanted to watch a mid-May game. Reilly, you take that diaper off your head and put it back on your sister.

So do I think college football will be back? Yes, I do. The stakes are too great — which leads us back to the sacrifice the football players are willing to make for everyone else — and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Now y'all without sin can cast the first stone.

But I also believe this: Add all of the above together, and college athletics will be the sports realm in the future that The Corona will have most changed. And the Power Boys from the Power Five are going to have a giant say in that and they will be taking these here Huggies and whatever cash you got.    

 

This and that

— And the first shoe to drop is the MAC. And it's one of the reasons that so many changes are coming to college sports, because without the football and March Madness money, gang, everyone else is really playing Div. III sports, and that's not meant as an insult. Here's the nut graph for the changes in the MAC: "The sports that will no longer have a postseason indefinitely are baseball, softball, men's soccer, women's soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis, women's lacrosse and field hockey. A basketball postseason tournament will still be held but all first-round home games will be eliminated. Instead, the top eight teams from the regular season will automatically advance to Cleveland for second-round play at Quicken Loans Arena. The conference is also eliminating divisions for men's and women's basketball and will expand to a 20-game conference slate in the regular season, expanding from the previous format of 18 games."

— Raise your hand if you're surprised that the NCAA keeps stepping on its own tongue throughout this entire process? The NCAA, especially with its inability to police and create level playing fields, put its first foot into the coffin by cancelling all of spring sports back in March. (Yes the decision proved to be right, but doing it without discussing it with the Power Five has pushed the big players in college sports toward finding a new structure, and this pandemic will be that springboard, in my opinion.)  
 

— You know the rules, TFP college football expert David Paschall writes about college football and we read and link Paschall on college football. Here's today's missive with his No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs player all time.


— If you had The Corona virus being so extreme that it actually got Johnny Manziel to realize humility and charismatic self-deprecating jokes. Here's Johnny Football botching a back-flip attempt and hitting a walk-off homer on social media describing it.

— As for the trash talking entries in the sports vacuum, we'll nominate Shaq roasting Draymond Green as an opener. We'll then move to Tom Brady saying that he's happy he's playing golf against Peyton rather than Eli.

 

Today's questions

Which way Wednesday starts this way:

Which way would your describe your outlook for your favorite sport returning? (Please list the sport and your level of hope of a timely return.)

Which is more likely in five years: All of college sports seems relatively similar to what we had before The Corona, or a Power Five planning to breakaway from the NCAA?

Which best describes your excitement level for Sunday's NASCAR race — high, mild, or not at all? As for today, May 13, let's review.

On this day in 2004, the finale of Fraiser aired.

Dennis Rodman is 59. Stevie Wonder is 70.  

Rushmore of famous blind people. Go.

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