(Tribune News Service) It becomes clearer by the day that COVID-19, courtesy of a botched national effort to curtail the virus, isn’t leaving America until herd immunity is achieved via vaccine.

When that will be possible is unknown, and it’s difficult to separate meaningful vaccine updates from false advertising. Every country and company is eager to announce their scientific concoction is the best and moving the fastest toward mass distribution. Why? The winning vaccine is worth billions upon billions. It’s also very dangerous to skip steps on the way toward production.

But let’s assume, for a second, an optimistic timeline of January for an effective vaccine to begin circulating America. Suddenly, the idea of packing arenas for sporting events in March seems realistic. And it could be worth delaying the next NBA season for that opportunity.

According to Morning Consult, the NBA Global Innovation Group — an in-house consulting firm — outlined four possible scenarios for the 2020-21 season, including a schedule that runs from March to October.

The other recommendations are all schedules that begin in December, however varying in the number of games and travel restrictions. The report said the consulting group will determine which proposals to share with the NBA’s owners and TV partners by July 23.

A March start is problematic for a couple reasons, namely that it would dramatically affect the following NBA season. You can’t end a season in October and begin the next one in October. There’d have to be a longer-term schedule shift. Also, the March-to-October proposal would conflict with the Olympics in Tokyo, which could result in a loss of media revenue for the NBA, according to the report. Many of the NBA’s top players are expected to compete in the Olympics, and the consulting firm acknowledged the NBA season may need to pause for a month.

But here’s why flatly dismissing a March start is unwise: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told players that 40% of the league’s revenue came from arenas (ticketing, concessions, parking, etc.). That equates to roughly $3.4 billion per season, according to ESPN. If the NBA believes it can recoup most of that money because a vaccine is en route, it might be worth it to wait.

Regardless, starting next season will be complicated and the possibility of labor strife looms. The current CBA ensures a 50-50 split of revenue between players and owners. But if revenue is decimated by the coronavirus, labor negotiations could easily turn dicey with guaranteed player contracts totaling $4 billion next season. Waiting for arena revenue in a post-vaccine America is apparently an alternative being analyzed by the NBA’s consulting group.

The No. 1 reason the NBA and players agreed to restart this season in an Orlando bubble was to recover revenue, mostly from TV partners. Perhaps the final product will be worthwhile, but the lead-up has been clunky with several players — including Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving, Avery Bradley, John Wall and Kevin Durant — bowing out of the bubble. Players inside their luxury resorts, meanwhile, have complained about the conditions and mocked the meals. Rajon Rondo compared his room to a Motel 6. LeBron James tweeted that his departure for Disney World felt like the beginning of a prison sentence.

It hasn’t generated sympathy.

“NBA players cannot be tone-deaf. My NBA brothers, you cannot be tone-deaf right now in this current environment,” ESPN analyst Jay Williams said. “We all know the life that NBA players live, you are blessed, get a chance to be on planes, get a chance to have millions of dollars in your bank account, you live a different level of life. But that is drastically different than what real everyday working Americans are going through right now.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the eight bottom NBA teams who weren’t invited to the bubble — including the Knicks — have nowhere to play and no mechanism to require their players assemble for training. Their focus long ago shifted to next season, but there’s no definitive plan to get that off the ground yet. One idea would delay the season until the coronavirus can be defeated.

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