Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about the state of vaccine development, expressing cautious optimism about the results of the Moderna vaccine Phase 1 trial (though note that the actual data from that process is still not available), and noting that it is possible we’ll have a vaccine – from among the many candidates in various stages of development – by December of this year.
Although there is only so much a nation can do to push the science forward, the U.S. is funding so many of these efforts as a way to secure access to enormous volumes of vaccine doses if and when they prove viable. Indeed, many of the companies behind the trials are already ramping up their capacity to manufacture internationally-necessary quantities long before viability is established. Normally, you wouldn’t do that – you could be looking at eating billions of dollars in useless vaccines – but to say that the present moment is without predecessor in our lifetimes is, well, something we all already understand.
NHL Voting on Expanded Playoff Plan
The NHL seems to be moving toward a restart plan that would have the league forgo the rest of the regular season (12-ish games) in favor of a greatly-expanded, 24-team Stanley Cup playoffs. The plan, as laid out in more detail here at ESPN, is being voted on by the executive board of the players association right now:
The NHLPA’s Executive Board (31 player reps) is in the process of voting on the 24-team Return to Play format. Voting could spill over into tomorrow. Should know results tomorrow night.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 22, 2020
If and when that expanded tournament takes place, it’s like to be centrally located in a couple hubs, one of which might be Chicago:
Our city has emerged as one of the possible hubs to host the NHL's return in what could be a 24 team tournament to begin in late July. Only two cities are expected to host. The other is expected to be Vegas.— George Ofman (@georgeofman) May 21, 2020
Obviously we don’t cover the NHL here at BN (yet … damn you, pandemic … ), but I’ll note for crossover fans that, because of the expanded group, the Blackhawks, as the very last seed in the West, would make the playoffs.
Overall, though, the planning is notable because it represents how creative and unorthodox the pro sports may have to get in order to come back, and maximize whatever TV revenue they can get. To that end, while the NBA is moving toward a plan that would see their regular season resume in July, it’s not impossible to imagine them instead ultimately deciding to forgo the final 17-ish games of the regular season and proceed straight to the playoffs, leaving lottery teams like the Bulls locked into the 7th worst record (lol @ 7).
Then again, there’s been a lot of talk behind the scenes that there would be too much to lose in RSN money if the regular season is not completed, even for non-playoff teams, that perhaps it still makes the most financial sense for the NBA to finish its regular season, unlike the NHL.
Baseball in Asia
Uninterrupted by any setbacks, teams in Taiwan are approach 40 games on the season, many of them played with fans in the stands. In South Korea, the teams are up to about 15 games apiece (sadly, our Lotte Giants have fallen way back after a hot start, and are just 7-7). The situations at a national level in those countries does not remotely resemble that of the United States, but they are making baseball happen without issue right now. It can be done.
For a country that has dealt with longer-lasting and more pronounced fallout from the pandemic, however, we can look to Japan, where officials today were given the green light to start planning a return:
NPB and J. League cleared to begin planning for fan-free restart | The Japan Times https://t.co/M2z5XftOlP— Jason Coskrey (@JCoskrey) May 22, 2020
The goal is to launch the NPB at some point in late June, so we’ll see.
Japan struggled initially with containing the spread of the virus, but in the last month imposed much more significant lockdown measures, and then saw a precipitous decline in new cases. So, while the first half of their caseload trajectory after the initial rise does look similar to the United States, they did not plateau like the U.S. (where we’ve really only seen a very gradual descent in new cases). So, again, the parallel to the U.S. is not perfect, especially when you consider the total volume of cases. Unfortunately, the United States has been in a class entirely of its own in this crisis, and it impacts the plausibility and perception on the return of sports. Nevertheless, it’s still good to see baseball on its way back in Japan, not only because we want more baseball around the world, but also because it can be yet another data point and case study on best practices for sports here in our country.