How should we judge the validity of sports championships in 2020?

All championships in 2020 are valid ones

by Nate Lechner

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many professional sports leagues had to change their 2020 seasons and find safe ways for the players to still compete for a championship. Many of the changes made to the schedule and venues forced the following questions: Should sports championships count in the midst of the pandemic? Should these championships have an asterisk next to their names? Should the success of the winning teams be looked at in the same way as previous winners have?

Not only do I believe that the 2020 championships should count the same as previous seasons, but they should be seen as even bigger accomplishments due to the many uncontrollable circumstances the athletes and leagues had to deal with. 

When the NHL and NBA seasons were suspended on March 12, the leagues’ regular seasons were ending and many teams were looking forward to the postseason in their respective leagues. Both leagues had intentions of resuming play, however, the safety of the players was the number one priority in a potential restart.
With this in mind, the NBA and NHL created hubs in Orlando, Toronto and Edmonton respectively. MLB adopted a similar idea for their postseason using hub cities such as San Diego, CA and Arlington, TX to play their postseason games. These “bubbles” housed the players and staff from each team in an enclosed environment to ensure that the players were not being exposed to any outside threats during their postseasons. Players who committed to playing and made it to the championship series in their respective leagues spent nearly three months living out of hotel rooms and away from their families. When discussing the legitimacy of the titles won in 2020, many people point to the fact that the teams did not have to play any postseason games on the road which usually poses some challenges. However, the mental struggle of being away from home for nearly three months, I think, was an even bigger obstacle for the players and should be accounted for when discussing the validity of the 2020 championships. 

The 2020 championships really showed what true champions are made of. The Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL), Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) and Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB) all had to have tremendous perseverance and maintain a level of intense focus throughout their postseason runs, even with all of the chaos going on in the world around them. 

This argument for the validity of professional sports championships applies to high school sports as well. The amount of adversity that teams are going through in the fall of 2020 is unprecedented and you never know when your entire season could change or be canceled altogether. This was the unfortunate case for WHS athletes as the BOE and Union County health officials decided to cancel all fall sports and suspend the start of winter sports on Monday. 

Some people may bring up the argument that if certain schools chose not to let their teams play, then the championships won may not have been against the best competition possible, however, that is not the fault of the teams who are choosing to participate in sports this school year. 

Although it’s cliché, the high school teams who win championships in 2020 should be remembered for how they played and how they were able to come together under a common goal and succeed under such difficult circumstances. 

Why pandemic championships shouldn’t count

by Jake Holtzman

Despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, sports have managed to carry on and bring joy to those who watch them. Three different professional sports, the MLB, NHL, and NBA completed their seasons, and the L.A. Dodgers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the L.A. Lakers won their sports respectively. It may look normal on paper but it wasn’t sports as we know it and unfortunately, there were many changes to each sport to adjust to the circumstances. Even high school sports have been unpredictable with periods of play and stoppages. This has raised the question of whether or not the championships won during the pandemic should count. Ultimately, when we get through these times and have a chance to look back, I think that the titles won by the teams don’t deserve the same validity as championships won during a normal year.

The league most likely to have an asterisk next to its 2020 championship is the MLB. The MLB season was abnormal, to say the least. Because of the pandemic along with inner conflicts, the MLB did not come up with a plan until July, already three months into the scheduled season. The players and owners finally agreed on a 60 game regular season and an extended postseason consisting of eight teams from each conference. 

A normal MLB season is 162 games, but this season teams played around a third of those games, so how can the season be taken seriously?  So much can change in 100 games; there could be injuries and momentum shifts that teams were unable to have because of the shortened season. Out of everything it was pitching that was most impacted by the changes made. It takes an enormous amount of energy to be a pitcher. During a normal season, a starting pitcher will make around 25 starts; this season pitchers made around eight starts which allowed the pitchers to be more fresh come playoff time.

The NHL and the NBA were handled differently from the MLB. When the shutdown happened, both these sports were in the middle of their seasons causing play to come to a screeching halt. Similar to the MLB these championships should not count.

The NHL’s playoff format changed dramatically this season. Going from 16 teams to 24 teams, with a qualifying round for the lower seeded teams to determine who would play against the top four teams in each conference. While this was happening there was also a round-robin tournament which proved to have a significant impact on the teams’ seeding. Because of these rule changes, certain teams who were not supposed to play in the postseason did end up playing in the postseason. Also, teams were not given enough time to get back into game shape, with only four live-action games before the playoffs began.

Rule changes plagued every sport and basketball was no exception. The NBA season was put on pause midway through and restarted in July. The season was also shortened and teams were forced to be in a “bubble” so that the games could happen. What this meant was that no team had home-court advantage come playoff time. More than any other sport, being home in basketball is a huge advantage, every team that made the playoffs this past season had a better record at home than on the road. But with no fans in the “bubble,” there were no advantages to being the higher-seeded team, which is the team with home-court advantage for the majority of the series. Home court is so important to most teams, especially in the playoffs that without it there is no way the season should count.

Currently, the college football season is going on and even if they play a championship game it should definitely not be respected. While most conferences started in September, not all conferences did start. The Big Ten and the Pac 12, two of the five major conferences, just started their seasons as early as three weeks ago. Both conferences have title contenders, however, teams in these conferences will end the season with less than half the games of teams from other conferences. It would not be fair to compare teams with a fraction of games played to another. But at the end of the season, they will do exactly that to determine which teams will make the playoffs.

WHS also has had some recent drama that revolved around sports. Even if sports do start back up at WHS, there might as well only be practices because the season is basically over anyway. No team has played or practiced as much as they would like, and many towns including Westfield have been forced to stop sports one or more times during the course of the season because of COVID-19. In both girls and boys soccer because of COVID-19 Westfield was forced to not participate in the county championship game. This made space for teams that Westfield had beaten in order to get there in the first place. These seasons can’t count if the team that was supposed to be in the finals cannot be there.  

While having sports to distract us from everything else in the world has been great, ultimately the changes to the sports have been too severe and the seasons have been too unpredictable for the champions of each sport to be taken seriously.

Do you think sports championships should count in 2020?

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