LAS VEGAS — It’s a date that will live in infamy for those of us who plan our days and nights by the sports calendar. It was March 11 when the NBA suspended its season and the dominoes began to fall.
The next day, the NCAA Tournament — the greatest event of the year, in my opinion — was canceled. Pulling the plug on a month of college basketball madness was unimaginable. Soon after, the Major League Baseball season was postponed, and the rest is history.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban spoke for many at the time when he said: “This is crazy. This can’t be true. It’s not within the realm of possibility. It seemed more like out of a movie than reality.”
The reality is the coronavirus pandemic seems as bad today as it was in March. Some will say it’s worse. But at least the sports world is spinning again — starting slowly with the UFC, PGA Tour, NASCAR and European soccer — and things are about to speed up in a major way.
“I’m pretty sure it will all start, as far as baseball, NBA and hockey, and I just hope it’s done smart enough where we could finish,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said through a mask. “I hate to venture a guess. If and when we get all of those sports going at one time, it would be fantastic. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”
The analogy I keep going back to is Andy Dufresne’s escape from prison in “The Shawshank Redemption.” He crawled through 500 yards of sewage to get to freedom and eventually found his way to a beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
We have not escaped this mess, but with a lot of luck, a depressing spring and summer could turn into a sports betting blockbuster for the next few months. We have some things to look forward to, starting with MLB openers all across the country. Here’s the rest of the late-summer sports wave:
July 30, NBA restart: Florida has turned into a coronavirus hot spot, but the NBA has put 22 teams in what seems to be a safe spot — a bubble at the Disney World Resort in Orlando. Some good news arrived Monday, when the NBA announced that virus tests of 346 players in the bubble had yielded zero positive results. The first day of games features Jazz-Pelicans and Clippers-Lakers. Six games are scheduled for Friday, including Celtics-Bucks.
Aug. 1, NHL playoffs: Twenty-four teams will compete for the championship, beginning with the Stanley Cup qualifiers, which include 16 teams playing eight best-of-five series in hub cities Toronto and Edmonton. The NHL’s schedule sets up daily action at the sportsbooks from morning to night.
“If they move forward with baseball, the NBA and hockey, it shapes up to be our biggest August ever,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “If all of the leagues can pull that off, it’s going to be really busy.”
Aug. 6-9, PGA Championship: The PGA Tour restarted June 11 in Texas, and the weekly action has boosted business for the sportsbooks. Kornegay said golf betting is up about 400 percent over the general handle on normal events. The year’s first major will be contested in San Francisco, where Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm will be the favorites.
Aug. 15, UFC 252: Dana White’s ambitious schedule for the UFC has been the betting highlight of the summer. The third fight between heavyweights Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic will be the main event of a stacked UFC 252 card in Las Vegas. White hyped the fight in a comment to Yahoo Sports, saying, “The winner will be the champion as well as the greatest heavyweight of all time.”
Aug. 17, NBA playoffs first round: LeBron James begins the hunt for his first championship with the Lakers. With the 16-team field set by then, the playoffs will proceed in a traditional format with best-of-seven series in each round. The conference semifinals begin Aug. 31, and the conference finals begin Sept. 15.
Aug. 29, NASCAR at Daytona: It’s sometimes easy to overlook NASCAR, but the Cup Series returned in mid-May and the betting handle has been strong this summer. The marquee race of the month is the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona Beach, Fla., where Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 in February.
TBD, college football season: The second-biggest question facing bettors and bookmakers: Will there be a college football season? And if there is, when will it kick off?
“There’s a big chance we’re not going to have college football, and that would obviously be a huge hit to our numbers,” Kornegay said. “I’m looking for a record August, but beyond that I’m not sure.”
Sept. 5, Kentucky Derby: Instead of being run on the first Saturday in May, now it’s the second stop on horse racing’s Triple Crown schedule, following Tiz The Law’s win June 20 in the Belmont Stakes. The Preakness Stakes will be Oct. 3.
Sept. 10, NFL season kickoff: Will the NFL regular season start on time? Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs are scheduled to open as 10-point favorites against the Houston Texans. Three days later, 13 games are scheduled for Sunday, including Tom Brady’s debut for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans. Week 1 wraps with a Monday night doubleheader.
“I think the NFL is going to be able to go forward,” Kornegay said, “but there will be some bumps in the road.”
Sept. 21, “MNF” in Las Vegas: The game might not happen, and no fans are likely if it does, but the Raiders are scheduled to open Allegiant Stadium on “Monday Night Football.” Drew Brees and the Saints are coming to Vegas. It could have been a sensational spectacle.
Several big events are set for the second half of September. The U.S. Open, the second golf major, is rescheduled for Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot in New York. The Stanley Cup Final is scheduled to begin Sept. 22 in Edmonton. The NBA Finals begin Sept. 30 in Orlando. After an NBA champion is crowned, the World Series is set to begin Oct. 20.
Fingers crossed, the sports world will be turning full speed as Tiger Woods returns to Augusta with his Green Jacket for the Masters Nov. 12-15.
“I know one thing,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “If this all happens, it will be [bleeping] crazy.”