NBA Documents Show It’s Considering Delaying 2020-21 Season to March if COVID-19 Solution Seems Close

Internal planning document includes a scenario for a March-October 2021 season
The NBA is considering four scheduling scenarios for the 2020-21 season, including running the season from March-October 2021, according to a strategy planning document obtained by Morning Consult. In this photo, the New Orleans Pelicans-Sacramento Kings game in Sacramento is postponed due to the coronavirus on March 11, 2020. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
July 10, 2020 at 3:11 pm UTC

Three weeks ahead of the NBA’s planned resumption of the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World Resort, the league’s Global Innovation Group is considering several scenarios for next season, including one that would begin in March and run through October 2021.

An internal planning document obtained by Morning Consult outlines four scheduling scenarios the league is considering for next season, including one in which it would push the start of next season back to March if there is a path to a coronavirus vaccine or therapeutic treatment that increases the likelihood that its teams could host fans in their home arenas over the course of an 82-game schedule.

The document posits that the league would have to consider how such a move would impact net revenue, as the league would benefit financially from a full season with fans purchasing tickets but potentially lose media revenue if the season overlaps with the 2021 Summer Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in Tokyo from July 23-Aug. 8.

Under such a plan, the league would also consider breaking in July for the Olympics, in which top NBA players typically participate, and resuming the regular season in August. The team behind the document notes that having a midseason Olympic break could impact competitive balance among NBA teams, as some players would be traveling overseas and playing additional games in the middle of the season, while others would have more than two weeks off.

Under the March-October scenario, the league would execute a rolling schedule release as opposed to releasing the entire schedule before the season starts as it would under normal circumstances. It would also aim to hold an All-Star Game at some point during the season.

The NBA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The three other scenarios all call for the season to begin in December and run through July 2021 and vary based on the state of the pandemic. The document says that the league will allow teams and local public health authorities to determine whether it is safe to host fans and that it will allow some teams to host fans even if others are unable to.

In the event that the league needs to hold games at a neutral site, the document says the league will ensure players do not spend more than four weeks on site without the opportunity to travel home. The current NBA season resumption could have teams that advance to the NBA Finals in the league’s “bubble” outside Orlando, Fla., through Oct. 13, or more than three months.

The document spells out a wide variety of “levers” the league could pull in developing its plans for next season depending on the state of the pandemic. These include holding a play-in tournament for the playoffs, playing with the timing of a potential All-Star Game, rolling schedule releases, increasing game density, building in buffers for canceled or rescheduled games and potentially using alternate sites like neutral markets or practice and G League facilities.

One plan, which is contingent on an improving COVID-19 situation, would essentially involve the league putting on a traditional 82-game regular season, just bumped back from its usual October start date. It would feature a traditional schedule release and standard matchups (16 games against divisional opponents, 36 nondivisional intraconference games and 30 interconference games).

A second plan, which is designed for the event that there are regional outbreaks of COVID-19, would feature a rolling schedule release and regionally restricted matchups to limit travel. Teams whose home markets are impacted by an outbreak could relocate to a neutral site temporarily to host games. The document specifically mentions Louisville, Ky., as an example site.

A third plan for use in the event of a national outbreak would again involve bringing teams together at a league-operated neutral site, with no fans in attendance unless the situation improves. The document indicates each team could play 64 to 72 games under this scenario and that clubs would rotate through the site with 20 there at a time.

According to the document, the strategy team plans to determine Friday which of the four scenarios warrant assessment over the next two weeks. By July 23, the team is aiming to determine which scenarios to share with stakeholders, including the league’s board of governors, the NBA Players Association and its television network partners.

A headshot photograph of Alex Silverman
Alex Silverman
Senior Reporter

Alex Silverman previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering the business of sports.

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