Joe Santoro: Praise the NFL for conducting normal business | NevadaAppeal.com
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Joe Santoro: Praise the NFL for conducting normal business

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal

Thank goodness for the National Football League. High school and college sports have been shut down indefinitely. The entire major and minor league baseball seasons this spring and summer might disappear. The NBA and NHL are desperately trying to figure out a way to avoid losing their cherished postseasons, the only two months of their seasons anybody cares about. The Summer Olympics have been postponed for a year. Stadiums all over the world are sitting empty. Fantasy sports players and sports bettors are sitting in dark empty rooms staring out the window. But the NFL goes on and on as if its business as usual, despite a world-wide quarantine. Free agents are getting millions of dollars as if they will have games to play this fall. Tom Brady has changed teams. Backup offensive lineman and defensive backs are getting huge contracts as teams scramble to fill their rosters. Where will Cam Newton and Jameis Winston end up? The NFL draft will still take place in late April. Pandemic? What pandemic? Some have criticized the NFL for conducting normal business while the world is trying to survive day by day. But we need the NFL now more than ever. The NFL should be commended for trying to give us all a bit of normalcy.

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The coronavirus has devastated Las Vegas. Casinos and restaurants are closed. There are no events or games to bet on. Las Vegas, like Reno, is about as lively as it was in 1858. But Southern Nevada’s sports world has been all but obliterated. Like Northern Nevada, there are no high school or college sports. And, like the Reno Aces, nobody knows when or if the Las Vegas Aviators’ Pacific Coast League baseball season will ever begin. But Las Vegas is also suffering the loss of the Vegas Golden Knights’ NHL season. The Knights were in first place in the Pacific Division when their season stopped on March 9. And then there is the debut of the Las Vegas Raiders this fall. Las Vegas has waited three years for the Raiders since the NFL approved the move of the franchise to Southern Nevada. A 70,000-seat stadium that cost nearly $2 billion is also waiting for the Raiders. Right now, though, it is sitting empty. What if the NFL season is wiped out? What if that $2 billion stadium doesn’t open its doors until 2021? Las Vegas, maybe more than any other city in the world, depends on selling tickets, attracting large crowds and staging events.

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The NCAA, right now, should start to consider cutting back on its football season for 2020. The next five months should be spent trimming the schedules to no more than eight games with the start of the season the first weekend in October. Each individual conference can determine how many league games it wants to play. All eight? Half of the eight? It’s up to them. To simply assume that the world will be back to normal so that football practices can start in early August in anticipation of filling stadiums a month later, is silly. It might happen. Don’t bet on it. Colleges and universities, as things stand now, might not even be open this fall. One possibility is that the football season is moved to the winter and is played at the same time as basketball. Maybe both could start after Jan. 1. Why not? It’s not the 1930s and ’40s. Athletes don’t play both sports anymore. Fans will be able to squeeze in six home football games during basketball season.

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The NCAA is considering granting another year of eligibility for all athletes whose spring sports seasons have been wiped out this year. That is all well and good and, on the surface, seems like the fair thing to do. But the cost of keeping the athletes at school for another year and, where applicable, on scholarship, could be harmful to a lot of schools. There are still a lot of variables involved to work out. How many athletes would even want to come back for another year? Do you just give an extra year of eligibility for seniors? Do you force the incoming freshmen this fall to use the 2021 spring season as a redshirt year so that rosters are not flooded with athletes? There are no easy answers to any of this. If it was just about eligibility, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But, like all things in college sports these days, it is really about money.

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The Wolf Pack baseball season was only just getting started when it ended on March 11. The Pack was just 2-12 and was in the middle of one of the worst starts in program history. The team was hitting just .188 and had an earned run average of 6.49. The Pack had been outscored 95-32, out-hit 148-83 and out-homered 16-7 over its 14 games with its only two victories coming against California Baptist. Senior Dillan Shrum, with four homers and seven RBI, was the only Pack hitter not in a slump. At first glance, it might appear that the end of the season was welcome if only to put the team out of its misery. But that could not be further from the truth. Wolf Pack baseball history will tell you that the start of the season is always a bit erratic. Plenty of Pack seasons have started slow and then turned around when the weather heated up and the home games started to pile up. Ending a baseball season at 2-12 is simply cruel. The Pack had an anticipated three-game series at Michigan wiped out this weekend as well as an always interesting game against Stanford at Peccole Park in April and a three-game series with UNLV in Reno in early May. The beauty of baseball is that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Odds are that 2-12 start, which will now forever be in the record books, would have been long forgotten by the end of April.

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The Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association still has not ruled out the possibility of some sort of regional and state tournaments this spring. Both, of course, are extremely doubtful at this time (students are not even back in class right now) but it is reassuring that the NIAA has not ruled them out just yet. High school sports do not need a regular season. They also do not need fans. A regional tournament and a state tournament, especially if it is scaled back, could be accomplished in roughly two weeks. That means if students are back in class by May 1 we could have some sort of positive conclusion to the spring sports seasons. High school is not like college. You can’t give an extra year of eligibility to a high school athlete.

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The NFL has already said it will go ahead with its draft April 23-25. But what will baseball do for its draft, which is scheduled to take place June 10-12? Can you draft high school seniors who might have played only a few games this season, if any? Will teams feel good about drafting college players after a season that lasted just 15 games or so? And what would even be the point of conducting a draft in June if there are no minor league seasons to put those players?