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NBA And Microsoft Team Up To Bring Fans Courtside Virtually

As professional competitive sports in America slowly make their way back to our television screens, many are unsettled by the sight of their favorite teams playing in front of empty crowds. Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, all mass gatherings have been put to a halt, prompting all sports to essentially shut down. Now, sports are able to exist again, just in a much more condolences fashion. 

The NBA has heard their fans and as they gear up to restart the 2020 season on July 30th, they came to the agreement with tech-giant Microsoft that fans needed to be present at every game, just in a much safer and distanced way. Microsoft and the NBA announced this week that it would be using new technology to project more that 300 basketball fans onto 17-foot tall video screens that will be courtside during all games. 

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The fans will be able to interact with each other as well, allowing them to feel like they’re really sitting next to a bunch of other fans during the live games. Sara Zuckert is the NBA’s head of next generation telecasting, and recently spoke with the media about this new fan experience. 

“Our goal is to create an enjoyable and immersive experience where fans can engage with each other and maintain a sense of community as we restart the season under these unique and challenging circumstances.”

The specific feature from the Microsoft team is known as “together mode” and it was initially released in the beginning of July as a feature for remote workers to make meetings more engaging, allowing everyone to “focus on other people’s faces and body language, making it easier to pick up on non-verbal cues that are so important to human interaction.” 

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Microsoft claims that Together Mode uses AI technology to put all video chat participants in the same setting by giving everyone a shared background. The company claims this makes it easier for everyone to feel as though they’re in the same space as one another. In this case, that space will be a basketball arena, and the NBA claims that the chosen fans will be able to impact visual effects within the arenas themselves through “virtual cheering” and different graphics and animations to motivate the players. 

As we know, the NBA is using the “bubble strategy” to resume their season and protect all players and NBA staff members from potential Covid-19 infection. 22 teams are projected to play a total of 88 games, after which 16 will move on to the playoffs. Once eight teams remain, friends and families will be able to join and watch in person on the sidelines. 

Major League Baseball is looking into similar technologies to bring the same level of fan-energy to their arenas as they continue with their recently restarted 2020 season. As of right now the MLB is offering their fans the ability to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves to place in the stands for a more visually appealing game. 

Initial pictures of the new NBA fan format has a lot of individuals online criticizing the “dystopian” aspect of having what looks like a giant zoom meeting going on during basketball games, however, during uncertain times finding new ways to enjoy normal past times is what we all have to adjust to.

Brooklyn Nets

Kyrie Irving Among Players Refusing To Play 2020 NBA Season Amid Covid-19 And Social Justice Movements

Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving is leading a player movement to skip the NBA’s restart of the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic and multiple protests regarding issues of social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Basketball

NBA Board Of Governors To Discuss Future Of 2020 Playoff Season

The NBA’s board of governors will have a meeting this Thursday in which they will vote to possibly approve a plan that would restart the basketball season with 22 teams stationed in Orlando, Florida. While no formal plan has been proposed, and it’s unlikely that one will even pass given the current state of the country in regards to Covid-19, some title favorites are internally figuring out ways to make a season in Florida work; considering they’d be giving up the “home-court advantage” every game. 

All major sports leagues (and non-sports related industries as well) in America have learned throughout this pandemic that creativity and innovation are key in changing the way we run our lives and careers. However, for the NBA specifically, there is still a great chance that the playoffs will get cancelled, which would mean for the first time in the NBA’s 74-year history a champion team will not be crowned. 

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Some teams are trying to strategize ways of advancing their teams edge if they’ll be forced to play in just one stadium. 

“Executives from the teams that would host a first-round series in the playoffs told ESPN that they had internal discussions within their own front offices about reviving their home-court advantage in some fashion, and that some have already shared ideas with other teams in the same situation, with the hopes of having an ally when making an appeal to the league,” (ESPN).

Sources also told ESPN about what some of these options for “reviving their home-court advantage” would be, including giving the team with the higher-seed first possession during the second, third, and fourth quarters of the game. The higher-seeded team can also receive an extra coach’s challenge, and transport their actual hardwood home courts from their arenas to Orlando. 

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The NBA competition committee is made up of team owners, general managers, players, and coaches. The committee held a meeting this week and none of the above options were discussed, in fact, they didn’t even discuss the possibility of restarting the season. The purpose of this committee, however, is to act as the middleman between the players and the board of governors. They discuss new ideas and changes the league could make, compile a professional presentation and then present to the board; like any office job. 

“[I’m] more concerned about play resuming than getting a playoff benefit. I’ve been just so hoping that we actually play the games, I don’t care if they even give us the home-court advantage. I’m like, just be sure we play. We’ve got to get to Orlando. We’ve got to have a chance to play for a championship in the playoffs. I don’t care what they do. We have such a hungry team and mindset, that yeah, sure, great, give us an extra timeout, give us an extra possession. Whatever the ideas are, I’m all for it,” Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

So far, many executives and board members have emphasized the importance of health and safety during this pandemic, hence why the specifics of restarting the season haven’t fully been discussed yet. Like every other industry in this country, only time will tell how this virus will continue to impact the way in which they run. However, NBA fans can expect a little more clarity on the future of the playoff season by the end of this week.

California Law

New California Law Would Allow N.C.A.A. Athletes to Make Money

As a general rule, college athletes are not paid more than the cost of their tuition, regardless of how much money they may make for their university. Many have decried this longstanding national policy as unfair, and recently California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that would allow college players to hire agents and strike endorsement deals, upending a policy considered standard in every other state. The law was passed despite the extensive lobbying of universities and powerful organizations who opposed the measure. Though the law is not set to go into effect until 2023, it is already causing confusion and pushback among college sports teams and leagues.

According to Newsom, while the law only applies to California, it represents “a big move to expose the farce and to challenge a system that is outsized in its capacity to push back.” Newsom considers it fundamentally unfair that the only students who are not able to monetize their image, likeness, and skills are athletes, even though these students generate perhaps the most revenue of any student group. It has long been the philosophy that student athletes attend university to earn a degree, not to make money, but as the industry of college sports has exploded this view is starting to change, much to the chagrin of colleges and student-athlete organizations. The N.C.A.A. has called the measure “unconstitutional” and is developing a legal defense against the law.

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When the law goes into effect in a few years, it will directly contradict current N.C.A.A. guidelines, which govern the participation of student-athletes in sports. Currently, the guidelines strictly prevent student-athletes from making money in a variety of ways, ranging not only from banning sponsorships but to preventing athletes from selling autographs and monetizing social media accounts. This means that after the law goes into effect, student-athletes who hire agents and win endorsements will violate N.C.A.A. guidelines despite being legally allowed to do so, potentially incurring fines from the N.C.A.A. It’s not currently clear whether the N.C.A.A. could legally enforce such fines.

As California is among the most populated states in the country, it would be difficult for the N.C.A.A. to afford to penalize the state’s universities and athletes, who make up a significant portion of the American college sports industry. And although the law only applies to California, it is sure to have reverberations throughout college sports in general, as leaders will be forced to decide whether to change their rules barring athletes from making money in order to accommodate Californian student-athletes, or simply ban these athletes from competitions.

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As the 2023 deadline approaches, other states are looking into the possibility of ensuring that student-athletes can receive compensation as well. Because California is such a large and influential state, they are likely to lead the way on this and similar legislation, and there’s a good chance other states follow suit. The enacting of similar legislation, or the lack thereof, is likely to be a determining factor in the question of how the N.C.A.A. changes its rules.

With this law, California is intending to force the N.C.A.A.’s hand, as Newsom claimed they were “not going to do the right thing on their own.” Both Republicans and Democrats were in favor of the bill, but as 2023 is still four years away, there is time for the law to be modified depending on how developments in the industry proceed. The law had the support of LeBron James, who hosted a television show on which Newsom signed the bill. Because only a small percentage of college athletes become professional athletes, the law is thought to give more students an opportunity to make money off of their athletic abilities which they hone during the course of their education.