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Plans to open Sports have merit

We’re approaching two full months since the U.S. began to shut down no definitive plans to resume sports have been announced. For Major League Baseball, there was a disappointing though expected announcement related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week it was announced that the 2020 Hall of Fame Ceremonies are canceled and that the 2020 class (which includes Derek Jeter and Larry Walker) would be inducted with the 2021 class in July 2021 in Cooperstown, NY.

But not all the news over the past week has been bad.

See "A plan to reopen that makes sense"

MLB has been considering several possibilities for holding a 2020 season and has been discussing such proposals with the MLB Players Association. The start of the season that was scheduled for March 26 has been postponed indefinitely and is all but certain not to start before mid-June.

Other proposals that had been floated over the past month but which did not meet with widespread approval were to have a season in which all 30 teams would play either entirely in Arizona or would be split into five-team divisions based on where their spring training facilities were located in Arizona or Florida.

Both options would involve playing with no fans in attendance and would also require an extended isolation from their families for all involved. It was this last point that created the greatest objections.

A more realistic plan reported last week by USA Today that seems to have been favorably received and is reportedly under serious discussion involves a realignment of the 30 teams into three 10-team divisions based largely on geography. The Divisions would be almost a perfect merger of the two Eastern Divisions in each league and a merger of the two Western Divisions. The only changes would see Atlanta shift from the East to the Central, replaced by Pittsburgh.

The playoffs would be expanded, although the exact format and number of teams involved is still to be determined.

On Sunday it was reported by the Tampa Bay Tribune that MLB’s “preferred plan” is to play as many games in each team’s home ballpark as possible.

This proposal has much merit and addresses the major complaint leveled at the previous proposals. Though also played in empty stadiums, at least initially, the schedule would be played in a fashion with which all involved are accustomed. Both homestands and road trips would eliminate extended isolation. Provisions would likely be in place in each city for visiting teams to be housed in secure areas of hotels. Teams might play a week to a week and a half at home and then embark on a road trip of similar length.

Depending on when the season would start (mid-June to July 4 was suggested) the schedule would consist of between 80 and 100 games. There have been previous seasons that resulted in only partial seasons being played due to player strikes and lockouts. The shortest season was in 1981 when a two-month players walkout resulted in just under 110 games played by each team.

From a wagering perspective it is likely that many, but not all, baseball futures bets that have been made for the 2020 season will be refunded once a decision is finalized. The ones that are refunded and the ones that remain “action” depend upon the stipulations of specific sports books.

For Season Wins Totals all books require a minimum number of games to be played, generally at least 160 games of a 162-game schedule. Most books do not have such a stipulation for World Series and League Pennants other than there must be such series played.

Division futures may be different. For example, the Westgate requires that teams must play at least 160 games. Player props often require players to play at least one game for that player to have action for achievements such as most home runs, most pitcher wins, MVP Award, etc.

Should a season get underway, there will likely be a two-to-three week training camp to get players back in shape. Books will likely adjust their Division, Pennant and World Series odds with some possibly significant changes.

In looking to make such wagers, do not rely on the odds that existed prior to the season’s delay if there are realignments of the schedule. It will be critical to evaluate the slate that will be played as the strength of each team’s schedule could vary greatly from what it would be if full 162-game schedules without changes were played.

If, for example, the three 10-team Division format is used, there might be no inter-divisional play with teams playing 10, 11 or 12 games against other Divisional foes (resulting in a season of 90, 99 or 108 games).

Such a change would be designed just for 2020 but there could be enough fan feedback in support of baseball’s different look that consideration might be given to making the change permanent, creating sustained rivalries between teams that now only play a very limited number of games against each other (Mets-Yankees, Cubs-White Sox, Angels-Dodgers, Athletics-Giants).

We’ll learn more over the next few weeks as states begin to relax restrictions. The major remaining concern involves the as yet unknown impact of states starting to reopen businesses. Hopefully by Memorial Day we’ll have more clarity as to the future of the 2020 baseball season.