At long last, the SEC returns Saturday — and not a moment too soon.
Here we are, a sense of normalcy rendered through the majesty of college football’s greatest conference. But lest we take for granted the return of SEC football, we thought it best to take a moment to reflect on all the wonderful things we’ll be getting this weekend when Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida and the rest of the league — all great by proximity, if not by record — return to our television sets.
Nick Saban getting mad: Alabama named its starting quarterback, and it’s Mac Jones. Oh, but you didn’t think the debate would end there, did you? Jones is fine, but fans have already seen him play. We’re going to need some real excitement in our lives, so best to start the Bryce Young watch now. And to officially kick off that unnecessary bit of controversy, we’ll need some poor, unsuspecting reporter to ask Saban about rotating in the young QB.
The SEC battle of attrition: There are no easy games in the SEC, so this year’s conference-only slate is perfect. We won’t have to witness the league dominate teams such as Georgia State, BYU, UNLV, San Jose State, Purdue, Wyoming, Appalachian State, Western Kentucky, Memphis, Cal or Kansas State. Opponents like that would have no shot against the SEC, so we’re lucky the league will cut to the chase and just give us the good stuff in 2020.
Coaches on the hot seat: It’s the SEC, and unless you’re Saban, no one lasts too long before his seat starts getting hot, and we will soon find out who it will be in 2020. Will Muschamp needs a big year at South Carolina. Derek Mason is walking on eggshells at Vanderbilt. And when it comes to Gus Malzahn, Auburn is gonna make a move eventually, right?
Is that $75 million for Jimbo Fisher starting to look a little pricey? And Tennessee hasn’t had a coaching-search debacle in a while. Maybe it’s time for another one. Lane Kiffin has yet to coach a game at Ole Miss, and you’d have to drive him all the way out to Memphis to leave him at a major airport, but this is the SEC and anything is possible.
Double-secret depth charts: Kirby Smart won’t say who is starting at QB for Georgia this week against Arkansas because that is how it’s done in the SEC, where we’re lucky they even bother to tell us when and where the games are being played. In the Zoom era, when the world is wearing a nice shirt with sweatpants, we love this type of chicanery. Frankly, we’re disappointed that Smart has even admitted he plans to play a quarterback at all. A wiser SEC coach might have at least left the door open to running the Wildcat for the whole game. Got to keep Arkansas guessing.
Coach O saying “Geaux Tig-aaahs”: There won’t be much of LSU’s championship team still taking the field on Saturday against Mississippi State, but that’s not important. Joe Burrow is gone, Myles Brennan is in, and odds are the offense will keep chugging along. The important part is the pregame interview anyway. The sideline reporter will ask Ed Orgeron about the game, he’ll say a bunch of stuff that sounds awesome, and then he’ll give us that familiar refrain … “Geaux Tig-aaahs.” It will be the official sign that the 2020 football season has begun in earnest.
Saban’s mesmerizing camera presence: Have you ever noticed that Saban is the only coach who routinely breaks typical on-field interview practices and looks directly into the camera? We’ve had a few weeks of college football now, and we’ve yet to have Saban stare into the eyes of America while he tells us what his team could do better in the second half of a game or how he feels after a victory. Either pregame or halftime TV time for Saban is going to really hit the sense of normalcy vibes.
Finding our yearly coordinator crush: Last season, it was LSU’s Joe Brady, the passing game coordinator who helped produce one of the best offenses we’ve seen in college football history. He is off to the pro ranks now with the Carolina Panthers as their offensive coordinator. Now, it’s time to find a new coordinator for us to gush over — and proclaim as the next big coaching hire for a lucky school or NFL team.
No. 21 Pitt hosts No. 24 Louisville in one of three top-25 matchups this weekend, and it’ll be another shot for the Panthers’ ferocious defensive front to feast. A big part of that attack is defensive end Rashad Weaver, who was among the country’s top pass-rushers in 2018 but missed all of 2019 with a knee injury and was forced out of Pitt’s opener due to a positive test for COVID-19 — one that caused him to vent on social media.
We talked to Weaver about his return and Pitt’s chances of being a contender in 2020.
ESPN: You went 629 days between playing football games, but you got back on the field Saturday against Syracuse and had two sacks and won the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week Award. Did you know you’d come back this strong?
Weaver: I felt like I knew what I’d be like when I got out there, but I feel like I could’ve done better after watching the film. Even leaving the field at times, there was stuff I felt like I missed and was upset with myself about, but I feel like I’ll just get better each week. Before my injury, I had stepped my game up a lot. I went into camp healthy and picked up where I left off, and it’s all fallen into place.
ESPN: You missed all of 2019 with the injury. Then COVID-19 hits and the season is up in the air. Then you test positive leading into the opener. Was there a point you wondered if you’d ever get back on the field?
Weaver: Starting back when COVID really got big, it was just the unknown all summer, and that was frustrating. But it was just staying the course and staying positive. Me and my roommate, Keyshon Camp, we said every day we were going to have a season and we were going to do what we can. We talked about it every day. And the first game, that was just another bump in the road — another week on however many days we sat out. But we knew we’d get out there and take full opportunity of it.
ESPN: So let me test your level of sympathy. You sacked Syracuse QB Tommy DeVito twice last week. He’s already been sacked 14 times this year and 58 times since the start of last season. As a defensive player, do you ever feel bad for guys like that?
Weaver: They get what’s coming to them. The guy plays how he plays, and he said we had an all right defensive line. If that’s how he felt, he should’ve done a little better.
ESPN: Is Pitt’s D-line the best in the country, and if so, can the Panthers challenge for the ACC title?
Weaver: We’re a legitimate ACC challenger, and we’ve known that since camp. The defense, from the back to the front, is as solid as can be. Our defensive front is the best in the country, and it’ll be proved throughout the season as the competition gets stiffer. We’ve worked for this, and we think it’ll pay off.
What to watch for, key questions
How will Oklahoma State look?
Despite beating Tulsa 16-7 this past Saturday, we still don’t know what the Cowboys are going to look like this Saturday. QB Spencer Sanders‘ status is uncertain (lower extremity injury), though freshman Shane Illingworth did bring the offense to life after coming in as Sanders’ replacement. Plus, the Cowboys still have one of the best skill duos in RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Tylan Wallace.
Luckily for Oklahoma State, they open Big 12 play against West Virginia. Neal Brown is in his second year as the team’s head coach, and the Mountaineers still have a lot more questions than answers. They opened up their season with a 56-10 win over Eastern Kentucky, but the Cowboys represent a different kind of challenge.
Will SEC teams look more prepared?
After months of discussion and uncertainty, the 87th year of official SEC football is set to begin.
We’re all excited for SEC play to open up this weekend, and you should be keeping an eye out for any rust … or maybe a lack thereof.
A handful of teams started slow in the opening weeks of the season because the COVID-19 pandemic created a disrupted and delayed practice schedule.
But the SEC had a few extra weeks to prepare. So we’ll have to see if it shows on the field. Though it’s probably safe to say some teams would struggle regardless (sorry, Arkansas).
Who is next in the line of Georgia quarterbacks?
If you have followed the quarterback carousel at UGA these past few years, it has been quite a ride. (There was Jacob Eason for a bit, then Jake Fromm, along with a year of Justin Fields as a backup.) And this year is no different. Expected starter and Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman opted out, leaving JT Daniels and D’Wan Mathis.
Daniels started the 2018 season for Southern California but suffered a knee injury in the 2019 opener against Fresno State and was replaced by Kedon Slovis — leading to Daniels’ transfer to Georgia in late May. Daniels hasn’t yet been medically cleared to play, but Kirby Smart hopes he will be able to compete on Saturday against Arkansas.
If Daniels isn’t able to go, Mathis will start. The redshirt freshman missed his first season after needing emergency brain surgery to remove a cyst. Now, he is in a position where he could be the Bulldogs’ season-opening starter.
The best team in Florida is …
After UCF beat Georgia Tech 49-21 in its season opener — in the same city where it claimed its 2017 national championship* — sophomore standout quarterback Dillon Gabriel proclaimed his Knights “the best team in Florida.”
Asked about that comment again Monday during a media availability with reporters in Orlando, Gabriel held firm. “I said what I said. I still think we’re the best team in Florida.”
Dillon Gabriel throws for 417 and four touchdowns in UCF’s win over Georgia Tech.
Now, we all know how UCF quite enjoys rattling the cages of its Power 5 in-state brethren. UCF AD Danny White and Florida AD Scott Stricklin have gotten into several he-said he-said skirmishes over an inability to schedule each other. UCF fans also accused Florida of refusing to play UCF in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl after the 2018 season at the height of their grudge fest.
The point is that nobody in the state much cares for one another, and that is especially true for the new program on the block trying to get everyone to take it seriously. But what Dillon said begs a very important question. Is UCF the best team in Florida? On its face the question seems like a pretty straightforward “no.” After all, Florida and Miami are both ranked higher than UCF in the AP Top 25.
The Knights are a healthy 27-point favorite against ECU this Saturday, but how would they stack up against the Power 5 competition Gabriel so confidently boasts superiority over? ESPN Stats & Information proves nothing is ever truly straightforward in college football. Especially when it comes to UCF.
The Knights have the highest Football Power Index ranking of any Florida school, sitting at No. 8. On a neutral field and with equal rest, the Knights would be favored by:
In addition to that, the FPI gives UCF the highest percentage of all the Florida schools to make the College Football Playoff (32.2% for the Knights, compared to 9.6% for Florida, and 0.1% for both Miami and Florida State).
So should we get a 2020 national championship banner ready? Wait, that is a different conversation. — Andrea Adelson
It’s 2020, so we have our first coach-by-Zoom
Earlier this week, first-year Florida State coach Mike Norvell tested positive for COVID-19, and though he has shown no symptoms, he’s required to quarantine for 10 days, meaning he’ll miss his first rivalry game with Miami this Saturday.
“I get emotional thinking about not being out there because everything I do is to help impact these guys and build them up and prepare them,” Norvell said.
It’s 2020, though, so there is a workaround. Norvell spent this week coaching from quarantine, sitting in on meetings via Zoom and watching practice on his computer with multiple cameras set up around the practice fields so he can keep an eye on all that’s happening.
“We’ve got a Plan B, C, D, E, I think we’ve got them all covered,” Norvell said. “Once again, unprecedented times. It’s something that you always go into a season with a Plan B just in case something was to occur, but there are a lot of moving pieces [this year].”
How wild is Florida State’s situation this weekend? Well, the Seminoles last played Miami on Nov. 2, 2019, a dismal 27-10 loss that ultimately cost Willie Taggart his job. Odell Haggins then coached the team’s final four games of the season before Norvell took over.
With Norvell out this week, Chris Thomsen will serve as head coach, which leads to this truly astonishing stat, courtesy of former Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret.
After having one head coach (Bobby Bowden) for 417 consecutive games between 1976-2009, Florida State will be guided on Saturday by its fourth head coach in its last seven games. #packer&durham
— Tim Bourret (@TimBourret) September 22, 2020
The Hokies will play … probably
Ten teams whose conferences have already started play have yet to take the field, but eight are scheduled to do so this weekend, including Virginia Tech. Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.
That was Hokies coach Justin Fuente’s message this week when asked about how many players he’ll have available for Saturday’s game against NC State. The game was originally slated for Sept. 12 but was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Wolfpack. Then Virginia Tech had to nix last week’s game against Virginia because of its own COVID-19 issues.
“We’re living in a test-by-test world,” Fuente said Monday. “We will not have a full roster. I hope we’re able to play.”
Fuente isn’t the only one keeping his fingers crossed.
“Everybody’s ready to let out their anger on somebody else,” Hokies receiver Tre Turner said. “It’s been frustrating because I’m just ready to play. I’ve been aggravated wanting to get out on the field.”
Turner let out a little of that aggression on social media last week when rival Virginia took to Twitter to call out the Hokies for postponing their game. UVA has yet to have a single positive COVID-19 test, which led several Virginia players, including linebacker Charles Snowden, to suggest the Hokies hadn’t handled their business, and Turner quickly shot back.
I’m ready whenever, wherever bro💯
— Tré Turner (@tre11turner) September 12, 2020
So, is there some pent-up hostility there?
“It was funny to me because when our game got postponed [vs. NC State], you didn’t see us going at NC State bashing players,” Turner said. “There’s a pandemic going on. But I don’t take anything personal on Twitter at all.”
Players to watch
Spencer Rattler connects for four touchdowns in the first half, giving the Sooners a 41-0 lead at the half.
You could put Rattler here every week and it would be accurate, right? He has played only one game (and it was against Missouri State), but Rattler completed 14 of 17 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a clear Heisman contender, and this week the Sooners face a Kansas State team coming off an upset loss to Arkansas State. I’m excited to see just how much damage Rattler and coach Lincoln Riley can do.
Hale: Auburn QB Bo Nix
There’s arguably no bigger wild card in 2020 than Nix, who started as a true freshman last year, beat both Oregon and Alabama, and endured his share of struggles against a relentless schedule that also included Texas A&M, Florida, LSU and Georgia.
“That schedule would’ve been tough on anybody,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “I’d like to see a lot of these other teams play that schedule and see how their quarterback does.”
That was last year, though. This is a new season with a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris, and Malzahn believes Nix will take a big step forward.
“He’s got a lot of confidence, and Coach Morris is trying to build this offense to his strengths,” Malzahn said.
Auburn’s opener should be a good test. Kentucky has nine starters on defense who are seniors or redshirt juniors, led by corner Brandin Echols, who’s among the best DBs in the country.
Under-the-radar game of the week
Lyles: Mississippi State vs. LSU. If you’re a fan of SEC football (I would hope we all are) this might not be so “under the radar.” Plus, LSU is comfortably favored. But there’s still a lot of unknowns for both teams.
For Mississippi State, it’s the debut of the Mike Leach show. There is no reason for Mississippi State to win this game, but hey, if Leach’s offense really takes just three days to install, maybe it’ll be entertaining. At quarterback, he’ll be working with Stanford transfer K.J. Costello. At running back, Kylin Hill — the SEC’s third leading rusher in 2019 — returns.
The defending national champs, meanwhile, return without many of their key players from last year (most notably 15 NFL draft picks). Plus, 2019 Biletnikoff winner Ja’Marr Chase opted out in late August.
But LSU is still LSU. So of course there was more talent behind the departing talent, including new starting QB Myles Brennan.
Hale: There are three matchups between ranked teams this week, with Auburn-Kentucky and Louisville-Pitt doing the heavy lifting and Army vs. Cincinnati flying under the radar. Still, the Black Nights and Bearcats offer perhaps the most intriguing matchup. Army has been dominant in its first two games of the year, beating MTSU and Louisiana-Monroe by a combined score of 79-7. Running on the Bearcats won’t be easy, though. Cincinnati hasn’t allowed 200 yards on the ground since its Week 2 loss to Ohio State last year. The winner of this one will be in a good position to make a run at a New Year’s Six bowl.
Our upset picks are a combined 4-0 so far. Let’s keep the mojo flowing …
The SEC Now crew discusses Week 1 matchups and which teams they think are on upset alert.
Lyles: Kentucky over No. 8 Auburn
I’m apologizing to David in advance for ruining our perfect record on upset picks if this one doesn’t hold up. But in a season that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in so many ways, and with Kentucky having one of its most talented teams to open up a season in years, I’m going to roll the dice on an upset at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Bo Nix had a typical freshman season of ups and downs for Auburn last year, and I’m going to bank on him starting the season slow — while hoping Kentucky inches closer toward being a football school (kidding about the football school part).
Hale: Syracuse over Georgia Tech
The Orange offense looked brutal in its first two games, with QB Tommy DeVito sacked 14 times in two losses. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, has looked awfully good, moving the ball well last week against UCF and beating Florida State in the opener. But the Yellow Jackets are still a work in progress on offense, and Syracuse has its back against the wall. If the Orange can’t win this one at home, they may not win a conference game all year.
Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home
On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.
Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.
Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.
The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.
“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”
Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.
“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.
Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.
“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”
The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.
“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”
That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.
The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.
On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”
There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.
“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”
For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.
“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”
Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.
“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”
There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.
“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”
Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.
Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.
“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”
With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.
“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”
Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.
Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment
The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.
“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.
The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.
Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.
“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.
Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”
The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.
Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.
“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”
Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.
The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls
With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.
At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.
What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
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