I watched bits and pieces of the Pirates exhibition game against the Indians at PNC Park on Saturday night.
It was a wild scene, complete with no fans in attendance and players wearing masks and practicing social distancing by sitting apart from one another in the stands and dugouts.
It was nice to see, because I was wondering if we’d ever get to the point where we would get to watch team sports again. I’ve seen it at little league fields. I’ve seen it at soccer fields. But an actual Major League Baseball field? I was starting to have my doubts. But could you blame me? The baseball players’ union and MLB owners were going back and forth for months trying to hammer out a return to play after the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down in mid-March.
What about the Penguins? After many months of negotiations between owners and players, they have begun practicing again in preparation for the 24-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament that is expected to start in the coming weeks.
Again, it’s encouraging to see those two teams—and the NHL and MLB—getting back to work.
If only I was as encouraged about the Steelers. Oh, I get that the Steelers and every NFL team are expected to report to their respective training camps by July 28 (rookies are to report by this coming Tuesday). In fact, that’s exactly what Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president of football operations, confirmed in a mass email on Saturday.
But that doesn’t make it a guarantee, especially considering Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, clearly one of the faces of the NFL, was very vocal about the players’ lack of understanding and communication with the league.
Watt described the feelings of the NFLPA in a Tweet over the weekend:
Once again in the interest of keeping everyone (players & fans) as informed as possible, here is an updated list of what we as players know and don’t know as the first group gets set to report to training camp tomorrow.#WeWantToPlay pic.twitter.com/xQcjs33zgM— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) July 19, 2020
That’s a lot of uncertainty for a league whose executive vice president of football operations just sent out an email confirming full training camps will be opening for all 32 teams in less than 10 days.
Can’t say I blame Watt and the rest of the players for expressing their concerns. The question is: Why does the league seem so unprepared this close to the start of training camp?
As I’ve said a million times (or so it would seem), the NFL is the one league that has been granted the gift of time over the past four-plus months. It’s had a chance to see how the NHL, NBA and MLB have handled their protocols with regards to resuming their seasons.
The NFL should have had all its ducks in a row by now. Why doesn’t it? Why is there so much uncertainty? Regardless of what Troy Vincent said in his email on Saturday, it just seems like a delay to the start of training camp is inevitable. It just feels like the NFL is headed for a start to its regular season that will be a bit later than September 10 when the Chiefs and Texans kick off. Much like those other leagues that spent months negotiating the best and safest returns, I get the feeling it could be many months before we see the NFL and its players’ union agree on a plan that allows them to actually start the season.
Are we looking at a 16-game season? How about 14? What about 12?
If we’re so close to the start of training camp with so much uncertainty still hanging in the air, nothing would surprise me.