Thursday, April 22, 2021

NBA and Major League Soccer prepare to play 2020 seasons at Walt Disney World

The National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Players Association announced that they have finalized a comprehensive plan for a July 30 restart to the 2019-20 season, which includes stringent health and safety protocols, a single-site campus at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and the goal of taking collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice.

In addition, the NBA and Disney have reached an agreement that makes the Arena, the Field House and Visa Athletic Center at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex the venues for all games for the remainder of the season, which will resume with 22 teams returning to play and with no fans in attendance.

The NBA and the NBPA confirmed today an agreement on health and safety protocols that will govern the resumption of the season.  The rigorous program, which addresses risks related to COVID-19 and focuses on the well-being of players, coaches, officials and staff, was developed in consultation with public health experts, infectious disease specialists and government officials.

As announced, the NBA and the NBPA have agreed in principle that the goal of the season restart will be to find tangible and sustainable ways to address racial inequality across the country.  Leaders from the NBA and the NBPA have also discussed strategies to increase Black representation across the NBA and its teams, ensure greater inclusion of Black-owned and operated businesses across NBA business activities, and form an NBA foundation to expand educational and economic development opportunities across the Black community.  In recognition that long-term change can only come from an informed and sustained commitment, conversations regarding these efforts will continue and additional details will be released at a later date.

“We have worked together with the Players Association to establish a restart plan that prioritizes health and safety, preserves competitive fairness and provides a platform to address social justice issues,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “We are grateful to our longtime collaborator Disney for its role in playing host and making this return to play possible, and we also thank the public health officials and infectious disease specialists who helped guide the creation of comprehensive medical protocols and protections.”

“It is very exciting to officially announce the restart of the 2019-2020 season,” said NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts.  “It has taken true collaboration between the League and the Union – special kudos to our Executive Committee and several other team reps – along with the continued support and assistance from medical experts, public health officials and many others.  Additionally, our platform in Orlando presents a unique opportunity to extend the ongoing fight against systemic racism and police brutality in this country.  We will continue to work with our players and the League to develop specific plans in Orlando as well as long-term initiatives to bring about real change on these issues.”

“We’re glad to be able to provide a unique venue where the NBA can resume its season at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex,” said Josh D’Amaro, Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.  “We look forward to welcoming the players, coaches and staff to Walt Disney World Resort as they prepare for the exciting return of professional basketball.”

Under the competitive format for the restart, the 22 participating teams will be the eight teams in each conference with the highest current winning percentages and the six teams that are currently within six games of the eighth seed in either conference.

The restart will begin with each participating team playing eight “seeding games,” as selected from its remaining regular-season matchups.  The complete game and national television schedules for the seeding games will be announced tonight.  The NBA and its broadcast and technology partners are collaborating to enhance game telecasts and bring fans an immersive, interactive viewing experience.

At the conclusion of the seeding games, the seven teams in each conference with the highest combined winning percentages across regular-season games and seeding games will be the first through seventh seeds for the NBA Playoffs for that conference.  If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage (regular-season games and seeding games) in a conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference, then the team with the eighth-best winning percentage would be the eighth playoff seed in that conference.

If the team with the eighth-best combined winning percentage in a conference (Team 8) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined winning percentage in the same conference (Team 9), then those two teams would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed in the conference.  The play-in tournament will be double elimination for Team 8 and single elimination for Team 9.

The NBA’s standard playoff tiebreaker procedures will be used to break any ties on the basis of winning percentage.  Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the NBA Playoffs will proceed in a traditional conference-based format with four rounds and best-of-seven series in each round.  The 2020 NBA Finals will end no later than Oct. 13.

Major League Soccer has announced the league’s plan to restart the 2020 season with all 26 MLS clubs competing in the MLS is Back Tournamentat ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida beginning July 8. The tournament, which will be played without fans in attendance, provides a compelling way for MLS to resume its 25th season.  Group stage matches will count in the MLS regular season standings and the tournament winner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League.

“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.  “The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches and staff as we return to play. We also recognize that the death of George Floyd and others has focused our country on issues of racial injustice, inequality and violence against black men and women. Together with our owners, players and staff, the League and its Clubs are deeply committed to creating meaningful and impactful programs to address these issues that have plagued our society for far too long.”

Major League Soccer has a longstanding relationship with ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.  The league held its 1998 preseason at the complex, and hosted events for the 1998 and 2019 MLS All-Star Games at the facilities.

“Sports have the power to unify and inspire, particularly during challenging times,” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “And we’re looking forward to bringing this exciting sport back to millions of fans, while prioritizing the health and well-being of the players, coaches and support staff as well as our cast members.”

COMPETITION FORMAT

Clubs has begun arriving in Orlando for preseason training.  Clubs that can conduct full team training in their markets pursuant to the league’s medical and testing protocols must arrive no later than seven days before their first match.

Similar to a FIFA World Cup format, the tournament will feature a continuous schedule of matches nearly every day, with games beginning at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. EDT. The vast majority of the matches will be played in the evening. Each team will play three group stage matches, and those results will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings. After 16 consecutive days of group stage matches, the top two teams from each group along with the four best third-place finishers will move on to the knockout stage. The knockout stage will include a Round-of-16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and the Championship match will take place on August 11. Matches tied at the end of regulation in the knock-out phase will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.

MLS worked with U.S. Soccer, Canada Soccer and Concacaf to institute a one-time change to MLS berths to the annual Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League. The MLS is Back Tournamentwinner will earn a spot in the 2021 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League, regardless of whether it is a U.S. or Canadian club. The winner would replace the berth previously awarded to the MLS regular season points leader in the conference opposite of the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winner.

In addition to matches that count in the regular season standings and the Champions League berth, players will have the opportunity to earn additional bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.

The substitution limit for the tournament will follow the new protocol set by the IFAB and allow five substitutions per match. In addition, teams may name up to 23 players on each official match day roster. Also, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) will have access to video review for all games.

For the MLS is Back Tournament, the 26 MLS teams will be drawn into one of six groups during a live draw that will take place tomorrow, Thursday, June 11 at 3:30 p.m. EDT. For the remainder of the 2020 MLS season, Nashville SC will be moved to the Eastern Conference. The Eastern Conference will have three groups, one consisting of six teams and two consisting of four teams each. The Western Conference will have three groups, each consisting of four teams.

As the host club, Orlando City SC will be given the top seed in Group A, which will be the six-team group, and will play in the first match on July 8.  The five remaining seeds will consist of the four semifinalists from the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs – Atlanta United, Los Angeles Football Club, Seattle Sounders FC, Toronto FC – and Real Salt Lake (the team with the next highest points total in the Western Conference from the 2019 season).  The seeded teams will be drawn into their respective groups first and then the remaining 20 clubs will be drawn and distributed across the conference-based groups.

In addition, the tournament schedule, national television partner networks, and other important details for the MLS is Back Tournamentwill be provided soon.

Upon completion of the MLS is Back Tournament, MLS plans to continue its regular season with a revised schedule in home markets, followed by the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and the 25thMLS Cup. The final number of matches and the schedule for the remainder of the 2020 MLS regular season will be announced in the coming weeks.

The MLS medical department and the league’s infectious disease experts have developed a comprehensive COVID-19 testing plan which will be implemented for the entire MLS is Back Tournament.  In addition, MLS will make a contribution of serology (antibody) tests to Central Florida residents beginning June 18.

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