Tuesday 21 April 2020

Sports: Suspended, Delayed, Abandoned

The current situation regarding the suspension of so many sports at the same time is unique.

While the scope of previous interruptions is limited, most sports have been delayed for one reason or another at some point.

The World Wars saw sport in England suspended or dramatically reorganised, but in the US, baseball and ice hockey continued with minor interruptions and changes although the latter's 1918-19 season fell victim to a pandemic after making some of the players sick, including one who died. 

"The Spanish influenza epidemic forced the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans to cancel their series tied at 2–2–1, marking the first time the Stanley Cup was not awarded." 
The second time was not until 2005 when a labor lockout resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 NHL season, the only time (so far) that a major professional sport in the US has lost an entire season. 

A players' strike in 1992 was settled after 10 days and the season was completed and 1994 saw a lockout which lasted for three months before a 48-game season was started in mid-January. In 2012 a similar lockout delayed the start of the season to January 19th and another 48 game season was completed. 

While baseball played its World Series matches through both World Wars, the 1994 season was interrupted by a players' strike which started in August and the season was not completed. Previous strikes in the 1972 and 1981 seasons saw uneven and abbreviated schedules, but a delayed season was at least completed.

The NFL's 1943 season during World War Two saw the Cleveland Rams suspend operations, while Pennsylvania rivals Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers combined their rosters to form Phil-Pitt the "Steagles." The Brooklyn Dodgers finished last in the Eastern Division that season. 

It is two other NFL seasons (those of 1982 and 1987) that are potentially the closest to the current situation, or will be should the suspended sports resume.

The 1982 season was a big mess, The season started as expected but:
Players began a 57-day strike following the completion of Week 2 of the regular season. As a result of the impasse, games were simply cancelled until a settlement was reached (ultimately, Weeks 3 to 10). Upon reaching that settlement, the NFL announced that Weeks 11 to 16 would be played as scheduled, and the games originally scheduled for Week 3 of the season would be played following the completion of the resumed regular season as a new Week 17, with the playoffs pushed back one week. Later, the NFL decided to use the final week 17 to hold various intra-division games from cancelled Weeks 3 to 10 instead of merely playing the Week 3 games.
Somewhat similarly, 1987 also completed its first scheduled games before:
A 24-day players' strike was called after Week 2. The games that were scheduled for the third week of the season were cancelled, reducing the 16-game season to 15, but the games for Weeks 4, 5 and 6 were played with replacement players, after which the union voted to end the strike.
The use of scabs would presumably have presented some betting opportunities, but I don't have any data going back that far.

The NBA didn't have any issues until a 1998-99 lockout resulted in a delayed and shortened 50 game regular season, followed in 2011 by another lockout and delayed shortened 66 game schedule. 

So other than the two NFL seasons of 1982 and 1987, it's hard to find examples in the sports I follow of seasons being suspended and later resumed. The 9/11 attacks of 2001 saw sports impacted for a week, although the NFL played seven games just two days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963, a decision that NFL commissioner Pete...
...Rozelle would later call that the biggest mistake of his 29 years in office.
The 'Big Freeze' of winter 1962-63 saw the Football league schedule interrupted with hundreds of matches postponed, and the season being extended by four weeks. Some lower leagues didn't complete their seasons, and there was no racing in England between December 23rd and March 7th. This was also when the Pools Panel was established. 

Bolton Wanderers didn't play a match from December 8th to February 16th, and other clubs had their fixtures similarly disrupted.
After defeating Millwall on Boxing Day, Crystal Palace (now confirmed as the world'd oldest professional football club) didn't play another home game until almost three months later although in the interim they did beat Brighton and Hove Albion away on January 12th, evidence that some things never change... 

Palace played 14 matches in 47 days once matches resumed, including eight in the month of April.

Bottom line is that we have no recent precedent or data for if the Football League, NBA and NHL resume, but if the baseball starts late, the opening day strategies should apply, just a little delayed!

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