Podcast Episode 29: Guess which league is an absolute gongshow

August 05, 2020
This week co-hosts Ellen and Steph give #thegist on how the COVID-19 pandemic is still negatively impacting sports. The MLB season is an absolute mess, college sports are still in danger and players are opting out of their respective seasons like flies. The drama.
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James Lang/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
James Lang/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Tune in to this episode of The GIST of IT here!

Ellen: What's up, GISTers welcome to The GIST of IT, the podcast where two gals and two pals give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: Thanks for tuning in.

Steph, it's great to see you again, we're coming off of a big August long weekend here in Canada, and I feel like I'm starting the week pretty fresh, feeling pretty refreshed after having that extra Monday off.

Steph: Feels good to always start on a Tuesday, it just jumps you right in there. And this weekend was great. I got to squeeze in some WNBA games, some NBA games, some NHL. How about you, Ellen?

Ellen: Yes. It was so fun having all of the leagues on literally all at once. I quite literally did not know what to do with myself. I didn't really know what game to choose or what to do. And it was so fun watching all of them, especially I found myself really enjoying the NHL because they're right into the postseason and they're right into the playoffs. So it was like nothing, nothing, nothing. And then just so intense, which was so fun. 

But I still am so sad about New York Liberty player Sabrina Ionescu getting that grade three ankle sprain, watching that highlight and hearing her ankle go over, it's just so sad to see a rookie with the star power like her and the ability like her to have her season basically over because they say that it's going to be about a month until she can return and the Liberty aren't going to make the playoffs and they're not going to risk their franchise player just to come back for a week or two and then maybe she wouldn't be able to play in 2021. So just I feel so bad for the Liberty, but also just for the WNBA altogether, because she's such a draw for fans.

Steph: I saw it happen on Twitter and immediately tuned into the game and just was so upset just watching. Yeah, it's a huge loss. What I'm hoping, Ellen, that we can talk about today is the MLB and some college football and college sports because they seem to be most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And I'm still flabbergasted at how the MLB is moving forward.

Ellen: Yes, flabbergasted is a really good word, and I'm feeling the exact same. So let's get to it. OK, so, Steph, let's chat about the MLB and how COVID-19 just continues and continues and continues to impact them. We got into what's happening with the MLB a little bit in last week's podcast, but to recap and to kind of get into it more, let's start with what happened from the very beginning with the MLB. So as we've mentioned beforehand, unlike other leagues, the MLB opted to go without the bubble or hub city route as they have all 30 teams playing. 

So unlike the NBA and NHL that are doing a restart, the MLB is just a complete start and they're playing 60 games in 66 days, which would be very hard to do logistically within a bubble. So instead they decided to regionalize travel. So basically teams play 40 games against their division and then the remainder against the other league's regional counterpart. And so to back up there a little bit the MLB is divided into two leagues, so the National League, the NL, and the American League, the AL, and then each league is further divided into three divisions the East, the West and the central division. And there's five teams in each of those divisions. So if we take the New York Yankees, for example, they're in the AL East. So they'd be playing 40 games against those AL East teams and then 20 games against the NL East teams.

Steph: I can kind of see where they're coming from with not having the bubble or Hub City based on the explanation you just gave Ellen, especially since baseball games take forever and would be really hard to do back to back to back like we're seeing in the NBA and WNBA and NHL but this travel has to be what's causing the issues with COVID-19 positive tests and with this pandemic.

Ellen:  For sure. You know, some of its travel, but unfortunately, it's seeming like it's because the players are not following the rules. And so for a bit of a COVID-19 timeline, because I feel like that's what we've been living in for the last six months, let's just go into that for baseball. So MLB opening weekend, which was July 23rd, which I guess was a Thursday, but still, MLB opening weekend. The Philadelphia Phillies are hosting the Miami Marlins and four players from the Miami Marlins test positive for COVID-19. They get on a group chat and they still decide to proceed with playing their game on that Sunday, July 26th, even though it's against all the rules.

Steph: You said this last week and I'll say it again for the two of us, it's so unethical and irresponsible, truly how dare they, come on.

Ellen: Literally how dare they, people are dying from this. So, of course, you know, COVID-19, it spreads like wildfire. And now 20 Miami Marlins players/staff have come down with COVID-19 and it's completely messed up the MLB schedule, which does not have much wiggle room considering it's 60 games in 66 days. So Miami was suspended from play for a week until at least August 2nd, so this past Sunday. The Philadelphia Phillies, who are playing the Marlins, also suspended their game for a week after at least two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 probably getting it from the Marlins, which is ridiculous. 

And so as a result of those two teams having COVID-19, a bunch of games were postponed and rescheduled at the last minute, and you know, the MLB had to actually update its health and safety protocol to require every team to travel with a compliance officer to ensure players and staff are actually following through with the league's rules.

Steph: Ok, this does sound a little bit like a failing for both the players and the teams, as well as the MLB though, like both players and the league, have to take a little bit of the responsibility here, I get it, the players want to play. They get paid per game. And with the short season this year, they earn about, they're going to be earning about 37% of the regular season salary. And it's still super unclear who will get paid during these outbreaks. But this isn't the same as coming into your workplace when you have a cold in order to collect your paycheck. These are grown men who get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars who need to now be supervised because they can't follow the rules. But also, I couldn't help but wonder, why wasn't the league being more stringent in the first place?

Ellen: Yeah, I just don't really understand how if someone got a positive test result that there wasn't someone there that said go to your bubble, the fact that the players could decide for themselves with the information that they have to still walk out onto the diamond and play is beyond me. But also this compliance officer reminds me Steph of when we were lunch monitors in grade eight of the kindergarten kids. You know what I mean? It's like you need to have your lunch time monitor, the compliance officers are going to be that lunchtime person, it's kind of ridiculous.

Steph: It is ridiculous. Grown men.

Ellen: Grown men, sometimes trash anyway. But here's the thing. It does get worse. It's not just the Marlins, not just the Phillies. Somehow on July 31st, so this past weekend, two St. Louis Cardinals players tested positive for COVID-19. And as of today, up to 13 members of the organization have tested positive. Somehow they're supposed to start their games up again on Friday. 

Some of this is because the MLB did say at the beginning of the season that all the teams could have bigger rosters. So as much as some teams are depleted, they do have a larger roster at this time to call from. But still, I think that this was really scary for me because over the weekend they represented the first team that was outside of the Marlins and outside of the Phillies on the East Coast that, you know, actually connected with each other. And now this is just not contained. And it kind of shows the travel side more than some of the Marlins players being idiots.

Steph: Ok, let's recap this a little bit. At the time of this recording, because who knows what will happen. The Miami Marlins, the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals all have players and staff with positive COVID-19 test results. And because of this, at least 20% of the MLB teams were unable to play due to postponements. 

In fairness, you can expect when you have such comprehensive testing to have some positive test results. Pretty sure the MLB and the players expected that they knew that was going to happen, but I'm sure they didn't really expect something like this. It's hard to look at these numbers and then look at the NHL, for example, which has been super careful in their hub cities and had no new positive tests within the first week of returning to play, knock on wood, it won't happen, but I can't help but compare the two.

Ellen: Yeah, no, I think that's a totally fair comparison because it comes down to also the root and the foundation of which they're playing too. And I think when you're in a hub city with everyone else too, you have to be so responsible because you know that in a split second, everyone could have it. Like if it does get into the bubble, it's really bad. 

But anyway, that's why over the weekend, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred warned that if COVID-19 isn't managed better than the league might have to shut down. That was actually reportedly what he said and I think that he's being legit, I don't think that he's blowing smoke, but it could still be a scare tactic to the players to basically say, get your shit together and stop doing what you're doing and stop lying and stop going out to all these places so that we can actually continue the season. And, you know, most players still want to properly play and finish out the season. And so maybe it's not a threat per say, but I would call it a good reality check.

Steph: We need those every once in a while.

Ellen: Yes. He's like a stern grandpa that's just coming down and laying the law. And so I don't know, as you mentioned beforehand, I think that this is a tough situation because there's onus on the MLB, there's onus on the MLB Players Association that agreed to this as well. There's onus on the players, there's onus on the staff. There's onus on everyone for agreeing to this travel schedule and not really even thinking about multiple hub cities or not even pivoting right away, like they're still doing all of this travel, even though there might have been an opportunity to pivot and go to another location. So I don't know. I think that it's tough. And I think that Manfred probably thought that he could trust his players and the MLB not to do stupid things like they did. But it turns out maybe that trust was not warranted.

Steph: The more I think about the MLB's return to play format, I think they should have gotten a little bit more creative with how they brought baseball back. It's so cliche to say now, but we're not in normal times, cannot stress that enough. I'm sick of hearing that phrase, but there it is. And the league is paying the price now for trying to make things as normal as possible. Something's got to give, whether it's travel, game length or number of games. Thinking back to what you said, Ellen, at the top of the show, if the games are long and it makes playing back to back games hard, why not shorten the games?

Ellen: Yeah, it's been tossed around a lot. Like why isn't the MLB playing seven innings? I think that a lot of people would want the game just to go to seven innings anyway. And what a great way to use this season as a guinea pig for a test for the future. And, you know, they've tried different ways to speed up the game. So in extra innings, for example, a team could start with a runner on second base. And the reason why that's such a big deal is because a runner on second base, even if you go up to bat and you hit a single for example, that runner on second base generally should get home. And so they're really trying. To speed up extra innings that way, so they've done a good job there and it has worked on extras, but I totally agree with you ,there was no creativity here. It was just the regionalised travel schedule and it was just the oh, we normally play 162 games. So actually playing 60 games is super short.

Steph: Mm hmm. And I know I'm coming at this more from a realistic and not a romantic approach to baseball...

Ellen: I have some romance for baseball.

Steph: So, yes, I acknowledge that I can be in a little bit of a different headspace than some baseball fans when I'm thinking so critically about this. Just wanted to put that out there. I like baseball, but I acknowledge my stance. The MLB is still on right now. I wouldn't be surprised if that changed soon. But anyway, while it is on, the viewership is thriving. It's having its best ratings ever. Opening weekend had more than twice the number of viewers as 2019 and ESPN's first 12 broadcasts averaged 1.16 million viewers, a 34% increase from 2019. Fox Sports also had a double digit rating increase, while regional sports networks experienced a 31% viewership increase from last year during opening weekend. And eight teams have gained over 50% in viewership. These are all pretty impressive numbers.

Ellen: Definitely impressive. And I think with a grain of salt, too. I mean, you know, you have all of those diehard baseball fans and baseball fans are probably the most diehard fans of any sports I would say. They get so right into it. They would go to multiple games a season in person and they now have to watch for a moment. I guess actually you could say that for any sport. So maybe that's not actually something to take with a grain of salt. 

You know, it was the first major league to come back in this pandemic, which I think is a big deal. And 60 games is actually reasonable to watch, finally. But I also think and maybe this is me more personally, but with baseball potentially ending, I think people are like, oh, my gosh, let's consume all of this baseball content that we can right now because we have no clue if literally in one week we're not going to have baseball for the rest of 2020.

Steph: For sure. All of that definitely plays a factor. But this viewership is at least a positive and silver lining for the MLB. Hopefully, maybe increased viewership will help generate some advertising revenue and help generate some of that lost income there for the league. But I hope it doesn't stop them from canceling the season if it ethically needs to be canceled for everyone's safety, you know.

Ellen: Yeah, yeah. That's a really good point. How the business shouldn't impact the safety side even though it's doing so well. Mm hmm. Yeah. And speaking of safety, because we're all about safety here at The GIST, wear your helmets kids. 

So speaking of safety today, which is Wednesday, August 5th, we were finally supposed to receive more clarity around the upcoming NCAA fall sports season after the Board of Governors met Tuesday afternoon to talk through everything. That's going to be breaking some point soon. 

So if you're listening to this now, maybe Google NCAA Board of Governors ruling and you'll hear something. We are still waiting. So it seems like college football is going to go ahead and move forward to focus on the major conferences, which if you need an update on what the major conferences are for college or how it's organized, have a listen to episode number 26 of The GIST of It. Stephanie and I covered that very comprehensively a couple of weeks back. 

So basically the ACC has decided to go with an 11 game schedule with one non-conference game. So that means traveling pretty far, the Big Ten is doing conference only for ten games. Same with the PAC 12, same with the SCC. And then the Big Twelve is doing ten games, nine games in conference and one out of conference. What's interesting with college football in particular is that there's this thing called the college football playoff, massive deal and that actually operates outside of the NCAA. But we still think that the NCAA could kind of impact and affect how the college football playoff is going to go on. 

So not really too much of a clue of what's going to happen there with college sports and, you know, outside of football or still what's going to happen to all those other sports and all of those scholarships and all of those students like that's still very, very much up in the air. It'll be interesting to see what the NCAA is actually going to say.

Steph: Mm. Got a lot of opinions, but I'm staying tuned to see what happens here.

Ellen: Well stay tuned for next week's for Steph's opinion on what's happening in the NCAA.

All right Steph. So all that covid stuff was a little bit heavy, as much as sports are back, you know, still talking about all that stuff gets me down a little bit. So let's talk about some other things in the sports world that have put a smile on our face lately and have made us say, wow, that was fun. And this week we have one. Well, I have one that I think is really fun. But I would say that you're a little bit cheesed about it. You have a little chip on your shoulder about this one. So the news that I love is that Dwayne the Rock Johnson, along with Dany Garcia, who apparently is his ex wife, I read on Axios Sports and I was like, imagine doing business with your ex. I could never in a million years do that. But I love that relationship. Good on them.

Steph: Well said.

Ellen: Yeah, yeah, trash people. Just drag it to the trash.

Dwayne the Rock Johnson, along with Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners, are poised to buy the XFL. So as a quick reminder, the XFL was a rebooted football league that was started earlier this year. But then it had to close its doors when it went bankrupt amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. So anyway, this group has put in a bid for 15 million dollars to buy the XFL, which is actually pretty cheap, all things considered. And the sale still needs to be approved by the powers that be. And they're supposed to be doing that on Friday. There's no other bids in. So it's pretty well a done deal. And if it goes through, Dany Garcia could become the first woman to own a sports league, which I think is pretty cool. 

Steph: OK, to be a party pooper here Ellen. I literally thought we were done with the XFL. I will tell you why I'm cheesed. I'm cheesed because I really want my WNHL. You know what I mean? I know that this is really cool that she's the first woman to own a sports league or will be if this gets approved. And all the mainstream media was truly focusing on The Rock in the sale and leaving Garcia out of the headlines. Not cool. Not cool, folks. The Rock, of course, does have a pretty good story. Before he started his life in the WWE, which I'm sure we all know him for, he played football in university in the 90s and spent two months in the Canadian Football League, the CFL, and then made his WWE debut in '96. And also fun fact, he played a former NFL player who ends up buying a team in HBO's Ballers, which is so ironic, so hilarious. Quite the story arc in this man's life. But he did tweet to his credit here how cool it is that Dany Garcia will become the first woman to own a team. Great work, great work.

Ellen: Great work. And who knows Steph, maybe they'll make a shit ton of money from owning the XFL and then maybe she'll start her own pro women's league. Or  maybe she'll get in on the WNHL. Who knows? That's the way that we have to think about it is like let's have her make frickin bank and coin and then let's have her start all these other leagues and expand all these other teams. 

Steph: If you're listening, Dany Garcia, bring a WNBA team to Toronto. Thank you. Appreciate it.

All right, that's The GIST of It from Ellen and I, thanks for tuning in. Even if I was a killjoy this week, if you still like what you heard, tell all your friends and get them to subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher. And while you're there, feel free to rate us five stars and leave us a review.

Ellen: And in case you missed it, if you like what you heard today, even with Stephanie being a killjoy, you have to check out our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday morning we give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. If you haven't yet, subscribe at thegistsports.com. Otherwise, if you want to get in touch with Steph and I, email us at pod@thegistsports.com or DM us on Instagram @thegistnews.ca or @thegistusa. I'm Ellen Hyslop. 

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And this has been The GIST of It. See you next week.

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