Ramping up for a season

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Going in to March, the NFL and the Players union came to an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. This change could lead to an addition to 2 more weeks to the NFL season, with the NFL wanting to keep the Super Bowl in early February the preseason could be at risk.

On July 1st, amid the global pandemic, the NFL decided to cancel 2 of the 4 preseason games, they would eventually eliminate the preseason as a whole for the season. There having been musings of eliminating the preseason or making it shorter. Traditionally there has been a set plan for all teams in ramping up to the season. Training camp began to take place in mid-July and the preseason would then end in late August. This situation has given players time to get back in to game shape. For the front office, it provides ample time to evaluate talent for the upcoming season. For late-round rookies this was their time to compete for a roster spot and playing time. Each season it feels like there’s always players who impress in the preseason and either land a spot on the active roster or practice squad.

COVID-19 created a unique situation for all pro sports league. The MLB was the first major American sports league to return, and in a normal season the teams would travel down to Florida or Arizona for a 6 week program called Spring Training. This set up allows for teams to play games each day and allows for players to work out in state of the art MLB facilities. Pitchers and catchers often report to spring training a few weeks before the other players due to the need to ramp up for the season and get their arm back into game shape.

This season the NFL and MLB had to adapt to the coronavirus while attempting to complete a regular season. The MLB was quick to begin, rushing the Spring Training process. It began on July 1st with games starting on July 24th. Providing players 3 weeks of training and a few exhibition games. For hitters this was a challenge but pitchers were the ones who were most affected by this plan. The MLB rushed to gain the first few days of views before the NBA and NHL began to play their bubble games.

The MLB was unable to secure the Spring Training facilities to potentially create 2 bubbles with both Leagues represented. Coronavirus cases in Florida and Arizona were at an all-time high during July, and sending the players to the facilities would cause a multitude of scheduling issues. The MLB also allowed for some of the top prospects to work out and play intersquad games at local minor league facilities. This made games in Florida and Arizona impossible due to the nature of the virus and the limited space. The MLB would have a 60 game season and then create a bubble for the playoffs in other host cities.

But what about the pitchers? The motions of pitching requires ample time along with a strict throwing routine. Pitching requires immense balance, correct arm angles, and the ability to use your wrist and elbow along with your lower body. Game shape for MLB pitchers is much harder to attain then it is for hitters. The increase of injuries for pitchers shows how intense the game can be and how even the best to ever play are constantly plagued by injury. The MLB’s inability to provide ample time for all the athletes while chasing TV times is irresponsible and will have major ramifications on the careers of all the athletes affected.

The NFL was unable to complete any preseason games along with no joint practices. Both leagues were at a major disadvantage. The inability to have proper time and proper competition cost both leagues dearly. The NBA and NHL were able to escape with only a few major injuries, but the NFL and MLB would be a completely different situation. Training camp brought no major injuries but on the second day of the MLB season, Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander was recommended Tommy John surgery for an sustained in the season opener. On August 4th, then NL Cy Young favorite Mike Soroka, would be shut down for the season due to torn achilles. Other Major injuries include, Seranthony Dominguez, the only serviceable Phillies reliever and World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg.

The NFL was forced to cancel the preseason based off the circumstances of COVID-19, and they had a more intense plan set in the CBA so there was little uncertainty if the season was in doubt. The cancelation of preseason has lead to an unprecedented amount of injuries. In week 2 of the NFL season, The San Francisco 49ers and the New York Jets faced off at MetLife Stadium. In that game the 49ers sustained injuries to All Pro and former DROY Nick Bosa, Starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jerick McKinnon on the field. Bosa’s was the only one that was season ending, but all of the injuries have lingered for the other players leading to a high ankle sprain for Jimmy Garoppolo following a week 8 game against the Seattle Seahawks. The New York Giants lost franchise running back Saquon Barkley to another ACL tear in his week 2 affair against the Bears. Running backs Nick Chubb and Austin Ekler both sustained lower-body injuries early in the season. There has also been a lack of late round and undrafted players who are making a big difference. The Baltimore Ravens have always had an undrafted player on the active roster from the previous draft class. The only two players in the 2020 7th round that were starters for one week or more, kicker Sam Sloman, who won the Rams kicking job and QB Ben DiNucci who started for the injured Andy Dalton in week 8. There have been a few impressive undrafted players, the most notable being James Robinson, who’s filled in admirably for the Jags with the release of Leonard Fournette. Rodrigo Blankenship has been a stable get for the Colts special teams. But the late round talent has gone dry.

The NFL will be able to execute the season if they continue the control of the virus they have had so far but there is no guarantee. The lack of late round talent and the injuries of high end talent could be a concern for teams in finding inhouse replacements and having a next man up mentality. The MLB barely got over the finish line.. The injury to Justin Verlander could be one that leads to the decline of the first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best pitchers to ever step on the mound. Mike Soroka will also have to make a huge comeback, as he’s in the middle of his early prime years and not being at 100% could hurt him, especially with the nature of his injury. In the NFL Saquon Barkley had his second year of injuries, after his electric rookie year he has become injury prone. This is more due towards the Giants inability to build an offense and protect their key players. Saquon is a generational talent but the injury bug could hurt him and his legacy if the Giants don’t protect him. The amount of lower-body injuries to running backs this season is high and shows how these all-pro backs aren’t able to be as prolific without the preseason tune up. Running backs take beatings week in and week out, and not being ready or seasoned has caused RB’s to fall apart early on.

The Game between the Jets and 49ers spurred a lot of controversy. The loss of Nick Bosa and the injury to Jimmy Garoppolo created concerns over the turf quality, but this was soon debunked. Nick Bosa was the Defensive Rookie of the Year last year and Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to the SuperBowl. The amount of time needed to ramp up and condition is an issue for teams and it was obvious the 49ers were getting the bottom of the stick with their injury concerns.

As the season went on injuries slowed, there were minor freak injuries and major injuries that happened due to the nature of both sports. Ankle injuries are hard to blame on athletes but arm injuries are based off of how ready the player was and how hard they are being worked during the season. Verlander is an ace who is over 35 and is expected to throw every 5th day due to the nature of the sport. Saquon Barkley is expected to run the ball 25 times with no preseason to get him 100%. It’s hard for the league to see these injures and realize preseason and spring training are crucial for the game.

Andrew Sheppard is a senior member of the Multimedia Journalism class