The sports world that went into hibernation during the coronavirus pandemic is preparing to emerge from its slumber this summer.
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that pro sports teams may resume playing games (with no fans in attendance) in areas of the state that are in the “yellow” or “green” phase of reopening.
Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh and its sports teams (Penguins, Pirates, Steelers) is currently in the yellow phase. Everything there should move to green by June 5.
Philadelphia and its teams (Flyers, Phillies, Eagles, and 76ers) are still in the red phase. But Wolf also announced that all remaining red counties will move to yellow by June 5.
So Pennsylvania’s pro sports teams will be in the clear during the first week of June. But the sports action will not be limited to the Keystone State.
In fact, all of the major sports leagues are making plans for a big return this summer. And interestingly enough, the month of July, which is typically a slower one in the sports world, could be absolutely packed.
Here’s a sport-by-sport rundown of what’s being planned and how that may affect our Pennsylvania teams.
Hockey in PA: Updates on Flyers and Penguins
Earlier this week, the NHL announced its plans to resume the season with a 24-team playoff. The regular season would be over, but both the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins have qualified for postseason play in the league’s new format.
If all goes as planned, the top four teams in each conference will compete in round-robin play to determine seeding. The remaining 16 teams will be seeded by conference and face off in a qualifying best-of-five series. Winners of that round will join the top seeds in a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff bracket.
Katie Kohler has a more in-depth look at each Pennsylvania team and the corresponding odds, in this earlier article.
NBA in PA: Update on the Sixers
The NBA’s Board of Governors met Friday afternoon and the consensus favors resuming the season by going straight to the playoffs. In a survey obtained by ESPN, 16 of the league’s 30 general managers said they prefer going straight to the playoffs, with seeding determined by the regular-season standings.
Earlier reports revealed that the NBA is targeting a July return at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Florida. But the league still has several hurdles to clear before that return can become a reality.
If you’re looking ahead, the Philadelphia 76ers would qualify for the playoffs and are 27-1 to win the 2020 NBA title at FanDuel Sportsbook. The Milwaukee Bucks are the favorite at +240. However, a futures bet requires a little leap of faith considering the parameters of a return and the exact playoff format are still unsettled.
MLB in PA: Phillies and Pirates updates
Baseball is also hoping to play games in July, perhaps starting the season on July 4.
But the negotiations between owners and players have become complicated. Owners have approved a plan for 81 games – half the season – but players are reportedly seeking more games, likely because their salaries will be reduced in a shortened season.
An update on the negotiations this week didn’t provide much optimism either.
It’s likely that both sides will eventually find a middle ground, but nothing is guaranteed right now.
Regional sportsbooks have already adapted to the likelihood of a much shorter season. Futures bets on baseball’s win totals are tied to a winning percentage in lieu of total games won. Additional wagers could be posted if baseball finalizes its plans to return.
NFL in PA: Eagles and Steelers updates
Whether you consider the league strident, stubborn or perhaps both, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross reiterated the league’s intention to have a 2020 season. In an article on ESPN this week, Ross said he thinks there “definitely will be a football season this year.” Ross even mentioned that the league is planning to have at least some fans in attendance for games.
Some Pittsburgh Steelers have already resumed group workouts. The Philadelphia Eagles will have the same opportunity once their city moves toward the yellow and green phases.
And with Ross’ assurances that there will be a football season, your futures bets seem safe. BetRivers PA/PlaySugarHouse, DraftKings, FanDuel, FOX Bet and other regional sportsbooks have a wealth of NFL futures already posted.
PGA Tour updates
In a way, golf returned recently, with Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning taking on Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson in a televised match for charity.
According to Golfweek, The Match: Champions for Charity drew an average of 5.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched combined golf telecast on cable TV. The event peaked at 6.3 million viewers and raised an impressive $20 million for COVID-19 relief.
More traditional PGA action returns June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. FanDuel has Rory McIlroy as the favorite at +700, followed by Jon Rahm (+1200) and Justin Thomas (+1600).
The sports forecast is finally starting to improve. NASCAR and the UFC have already returned. The PGA Tour is on deck. And the other major sports are hoping to follow close behind.
After a long slumber, the sports world is waking up.