To bubble or not to bubble: Professional sports return with varied restrictions in place


Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler

OG Anunoby hits game-winning shot in game 3 of the eastern conference semi-finals.

Rohan Miglani, Managing Editor of Sports

On March 11, 2020, following a positive COVID-19 test from Utah Jazz starting center Rudy Gobert, the NBA postponed their season. Only days later other sports leagues including the NHL and MLB postponed their season as well, to prevent further spread of Covid 19. 

With no live sports for over 2 months, many less mainstream sports realized the opportunity they had, as there was no other competition in the sports industry. Dana White and The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) looked to capitalize on the lack of competition and planned to have a pay-per-view event on May 9th in Jacksonville, Florida. The UFC, with careful planning, was able to construct a “bubble” for their fighters and staff where people were not allowed in or out, and testing occurred on a daily basis. The overwhelming success of the event gave other sports leagues and the general public the confidence needed to try and bring back sports.

In June, plans to bring back the NBA, NHL and MLB began, with the NBA and NHL planning to create their own bubbles, while the MLB did not create a bubble and allowed for travel, they did not allow teams to leave their team hotels. While the two bubble sports organizations were able to complete seasons without any positive COVID-19 tests, the MLB started shakily with teams such as the Marlins and the Cardinals having massive COVID-19 outbreaks within their team, causing two weeks worth of games needing rescheduling. However, after the initial struggles faced by the MLB, they tightened the rules, resulting in 60 straight days without a positive test from any player in an MLB organization.

In September, the United States’ biggest sports league, the NFL, began its season with very similar rules as the MLB. Similar to the MLB, the NFL’s start to the season has been shaky, with teams such as the Patriots and Titans already having COVID-19 outbreaks, resulting in the postponement of games. However, as the weeks have gone on the number of positive tests has decreased, mirroring what occurred at the start of the MLB season.

While all 4 major sports leagues in the United States were able to come back and play their seasons, the NBA and NHL had much more success than the MLB and NFL. This success is due to the bubble in Orlando for the NBA, and the two bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto for the NHL, which didn’t allow the players or staff to have contact with anyone who could have been exposed to the virus. While the MLB and NFL, who had prolonged seasons, could not keep these players away from their family in a bubble, these two non-bubble sports leagues have still been able to enforce strict enough guidelines to limit the spread of Covid within the leagues.

Despite the many bumps along the way, which was to be expected, the return of professional sports has been for the most part a success and something consistent to look forward to in a time of much uncertainty.