PAUSE THE GAME

The timing is right for the NBA to make some massive changes

COVID has gone viral across all sports. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

On March 11, 2020, it seems like a lifetime ago, the NBA shut down its season because one player on one team tested positive for Covid-19.

In 2021, as the NBA nears the halfway point of this Covid-ravaged season, commissioner Adam Silver says the league has no current plans to suspend play. Even though …

More than 90 NBA players are missing games because they’re in the league’s Covid health and safety protocols. Included are some of the greatest players and biggest stars, like Kevin Durant, Zach Levine, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Ja Morant, Cade Cunningham and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Nine games have been postponed because teams simply didn't have enough healthy players to take the court. Teams are required to have at least eight available players. The Brooklyn Nets have 10 players in protocols, the Raptors and Cavaliers have 8 players sidelined. Teams are signing “hardship” substitutes and developmental talent. The Boston Celtics recently signed Joe Johnson to a 10-day contract. Johnson retired from the NBA three years ago. More recently his basketball has been limited to Ice Cube’s Big 3 league.

Three head coaches are in Covid protocols: Rick Carlisle (Pacers), Frank Vogel (Lakers) and Alvin Gentry (Kings). The Raptors are allowing only 50-percent capacity at home games.

The NBA is not delivering an NBA-quality product. Is it time for the NBA to pause its season and wait out the Omicron wave, which reportedly will be briefer than previous variants? What do you say to fans around the country who purchased high-end tickets for when the Nets visit their city – and then the Nets show up without Durant, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge and other regulars? Or when the Bucks come to town and the Greek Freak isn't with them? Sure those replacement players are wearing NBA uniforms, but that’s a G League team out there. It’s like buying tickets to a Rolling Stones concert and when you get to the venue it’s a Stones cover band.

The Houston Rockets are one of nine NBA teams without a player on the current Covid health and safety list.

It isn’t just the NBA that might want to consider pausing its season. NFL locker rooms have become pop-up infirmaries. More than 200 players have tested positive for Covid in the past week. That’s 10-percent of the league. The virus has gone viral in the NFL.

The Los Angeles Rams have 25 players in Covid protocols, including defensive back Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Von Miller. The Cleveland Browns have 21 players out, including quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum plus wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Head coach Kevin Stefanski is in Covid protocols, too. The Cleveland Browns are now an NFL cover band. The Saints are starting Ian Book at quarterback this week.

The Houston Texans have 22 players on the Covid list including star receiver Brandon Cooks and kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn.

The Texans will be 9-1/2 point underdogs when they host the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

The NFL is shifting game schedules trying to help teams field competitive rosters. Meanwhile superstar Aaron Rodgers lied about his vaccination status and continues to spout Covid conspiracy theories and tout unproven medical information. The NFL is a mess.

The league just announced new testing procedures that will rely on vaccinated players self-reporting if they are experiencing Covid-related symptoms. Yeah, that’ll work. NFL players are known for keeping injuries secret and some will do anything, including submitting fake vaccination cards, to stay on the field. How stupid can the NFL be?

The National Hockey League has it right, or at least it’s taking Covid more seriously than its counterpart North American pro leagues. The NHL has suspended play until after Christmas and players will not participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Texas A&M has pulled out of the Gator Bowl because the 8-4 Aggies don’t have enough scholarship players – only 38 left standing, 13 on defense - to field a competitive team against Wake Forest on Dec. 31. Instead the Gator Bowl has invited 5-7 Rutgers to take Top 25-ranked A&M’s place. Rutgers will have only a week to get everybody back on campus to practice. It’s just wrong. I’m sure the Gator Bowl organizing committee is thrilled with this development. How do you market a losing team in your bowl game?

Now the College Football Playoff committee says it’s possible that the national champions may be crowned by forfeit if teams have a Covid outbreak. There isn’t a keyboard in the world with an asterisk big enough for a title by forfeit.

A better option, if Covid appears unrelenting next month: cancel the playoff. It won’t be the end of the world if there’s no college championship game. Or if the Super Bowl is pushed back to March. Or the NBA has to resort to a bubble in Orlando again.

Sports leagues have a responsibility to give fans their best product. They’re fond of saying that player safety comes first. It may hurt, but prove it.

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