Updated September 30, 2020
BY Lance Cartelli

Crowning Champions: Are the 2020 NBA and MLB Championships Valid?

It’s been six months since the NBA announced its first player tested positive for COVID-19, and stadiums began shutting their doors. While the shutdown was expected to be indefinite, the league found a way to finish off the season: It created a bubble. With players, coaches and team and league personnel packed into one location, continuous testing, and entry restricted from nonessential outsiders, the NBA found the solution to fans’ biggest concerns, and let the games begin again.

On a different field, a string of positive tests across multiple MLB teams sparked talks of the league shutting down before the start of the season. But, yet again, the league made it work. With positive-testing players sitting out this season, no fans in the stands and strict COVID-19 protocols, life in the ballpark continued.

But are these seasons really as valid as previous pandemic-free ones were? Does a shortened season or infected players mean the NBA Finals and MLB World Series titles should come with an asterisk? We surveyed over 1,000 sports fans to understand their stance and see if sentiments differ based on team. Here's what we found. 

Validity in the Bubble

Instead of finishing off a regular 82-game season, the pandemic-stricken schedule allotted for each of the 22 NBA teams to play a total of eight regular-season games. While the playoffs are the same, consisting of seven games, the road to get there has been far from typical. Despite the winding road, over a whopping 81% of sports fans said they would consider this year’s championship to be completely valid.

While nearly 20% of fans weren’t as supportive of validity, fans of the Golden State Warriors were by far the most skeptical. Compared to just 4.1% of Charlotte Hornets fans, 28% of Golden State Warrior fans said they wouldn’t count this year’s NBA Finals as valid. Similarly, 23.2% of New York Knicks fans and 18.2% of Chicago Bulls fans said the same. Surprisingly, though, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between positive players and lack of validity. Golden State Warriors fans were the least supportive, yet none of the team’s players are sitting out due to a COVID-19 diagnosis. On the other hand, seven players on the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for COVID-19, yet only 7.3% of fans felt the championship wouldn’t be valid.

Seasoned Sentiments

Among those who won’t consider this season valid, the majority named a shortened season as the reason why. Nearly 36% of fans thought the shortened season invalidated the championship, while 34% and 33.3% said it was players opting out and player(s) with COVID-19, respectively. Still, more than 27% of fans said eliminating the home-court advantage – thanks to the bubble – means the 2020 NBA season won’t be valid.

While players opting out or testing positive for coronavirus surely impacts a team and the outcome of games, home-court advantage is a serious factor in the NBA. In fact, it’s the only major North American sport to see such a stark difference in home wins, with home teams winning 56% to 58% of all games in any given season. Taking away this advantage helped to level the playing field and alter the outcome of the regular-season games and the playoffs.

Supporting the Title

Without a bubble or brief hiatus due to players testing positive for COVID-19, do sports fans feel the same about the validity of this pandemic-riddled MLB season? Shockingly, baseball fans were even more likely to say they won’t consider this year’s World Series valid compared to NBA fans. 

While 77.3% of fans supported the validity, 22.7% said they would consider the World Series as less than valid. But just like the NBA, sports fans’ support of the MLB season differed largely based on team. Fans of the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners were the most likely to think the World Series would be valid, while over 20% of New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers fans said the opposite.

Again, there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between positive players and validity sentiments. The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals had the highest number of positive-testing players by far, yet fans of the two teams were among the most supportive of considering the World Series valid.

An Unfair Advantage

In line with NBA sentiments, sports fans also named the MLB’s shortened season as the biggest reason behind not considering the 2020 season valid.

With teams playing just 60 games, fans argue slow-burning teams won’t get the same chance at winning the title compared to teams that can pull off a potentially short-lived hot streak. Following a shortened season, 34.6% of fans said players with COVID-19 would impact the validity, whereas 29.8% said players opting out was the reason. 

However, 28.3% of fans were also concerned about injuries impacting the season’s validity – and for good reason. While injuries are impossible to avoid in any major sport, the rushed season has increased the number of pitchers on the injured list. An abbreviated spring training meant players are not only fighting off virus worries but are also less prepared to fight off on-field injuries.

Same Sport, Different Rules

When the NBA first announced it was shutting down operations because of the COVID-19 outbreak, sports fans were devastated. The thought of no games to attend or watch on TV meant a long dreadful season stuck inside. But the creation of the bubble, shortened seasons and strict protocols allowed every major sport to resume playing. That still wasn’t enough for some fans, though. While the majority of sports fans think the 2020 NBA Finals and MLB World Series titles are still valid despite COVID-19 adjustments, a good portion thinks the shortened season and absence of some players strips the entire season of its validity.

Whether valid or not, all sports fans likely agree on one thing: It’s good to have sports back. At Lines, we think so, too. As games continue in the bubble and cardboard cutout-filled stadiums, we’re here to help fans at home stay up to date on all things sports. From sports-betting insights to minute-by-minute updates on trends, personalities and even the drama, everything you need to know about the happenings in sports is on Visit your newest trusted sports source online today.

Methodology and Limitations

We collected responses from 1,105 sports fans using Amazon Mechanical Turk. To qualify for the survey, respondents had to indicate that they were fans of the NBA and MLB. Of the 1,105 fans surveyed, 30.9% were female, 69.0% were male, and less than 1% identified as nonbinary. Additionally, respondents ranged in age from 19 to 79 with an average of 38 and a standard deviation of 12 years. The main limitation of this study is the reliance on self-report, which is faced with several issues such as, but not limited to, attribution, exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping. Data is solely representative of self-reported claims by fans, and no association to teams, venues, or cities should be inferred. This survey ran during September 2020.

Fair Use Statement

The 2020 sports season might look different from those that came before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the title of champion won’t mean as much. If you know someone who would be interested in this project’s findings, feel free to share it with them for noncommercial purposes. All we ask is that you link back to this page so readers can view the methodology, and our authors receive proper credit.

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