10 ways 2020 changed sports forever

2. Seasons may keep getting shorter. Athletes, particularly those in the NBA, have long argued that the regular season is too long and grueling. Every major sport other than the NFL, which only has one game a week anyway, shortened its season this year, and the result was, in many cases, crisper, sharper players. (The quality of play in the NBA bubble was often breathtaking.) What may have started out as a pandemic necessity — fewer games means fewer medical risks and, perhaps more important to owners, fewer games where players had to be paid their full salary — is already becoming the new normal. Considering how much money leagues derive from the playoffs, which bring in national television dollars, there may not be a huge constituency for going back to the way things were. The upcoming NBA and NHL seasons are already shorter, and it’s widely assumed that MLB’s season will shave a few games off its usual 162 as well. (Though that’ll end up being yet another massive management-union fight.) Don’t be surprised if every league’s schedule is a little less lengthy going forward.

3. Plenty more rules experimentation. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred initially came into the job talking a big game about possible rule changes to shorten games in the hopes of attracting younger fans. But he didn’t really start instituting the big ones — specifically, putting a runner at second base to start extra-inning games and shortening doubleheaders to two seven-inning games — until the pandemic arrived. Baseball has long been plagued by purists who insist the game should be exactly the way it was when they were 14 years old, but the big surprise this year was that fans loved these changes. (It turns out that knowing a baseball game will end before 4 a.m. tends to entice people to keep watching.) Expect leagues to be emboldened by the embrace of such creativity. If there’s anything they ever wanted to tweak, now’s the time to do it.