The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has silenced all major sports leagues. Instead of the anticipated opening of the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season during the last week of March, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) announced agreement on the specific terms governing the potential beginning of a coronavirus delayed start to the 2020 season.

The parties have reached agreement on several subjects, including the following:

  • Resumption of Play/Scheduling of Games

MLB and its players agreed to certain safety measures prerequisite to the return to the field. With the goal of playing the most games in the regular season and postseason, both sides agreed to the following conditions:

– No bans on mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans.

However, the Commissioner Manfred is authorized to consider the resumption of games in alternate neutral sites “where economically feasible”;

– No travel restrictions throughout the United State and Canada;

– Medical experts must determine that there would be no health risks for players, staff, or fans, with the Commissioner and MLBPA still able to consider the possibility of playing games in empty stadiums.

The parties also agreed on the potential of playing games in neutral sites, in lieu of home stadiums, and that the option of playing in empty stadiums may provide an earlier return to games in COVID-19-free zones as the nation recovers at different speeds around the country.

  • Service Time/2020 Salaries

A crucial component of the MLB/MLBPA agreement was reaching agreement was the issue of lost pay from lost games and service time. Service time is crucial for all players as each day spent on the major league roster determines when a player is eligible for free agency, arbitration and individual player pension credits.

MLB agreed to grant a full year of service time in 2020 for all players who played in the major leagues for the entire 2019 season. If the 2020 season is played, all players will be able to receive a full season of service even if the cancellation of games results in a season less than the typical 172 days.

While receiving a full service time is still possible, the major league salaries and performance bonuses in player contracts for 2020 will be prorated. If the season consists of 100 games, players will receive approximately 62% of their contracted salary.

An interesting aspect of the agreement involves the possibility of a full season cancellation.

If COVID-19 causes the entire 2020 to be lost, the total financial liability for the owners is limited to a $170-million advance guaranteed to be distributed to players in April and May.

The money will be distributed at $5,000 a day ($150,000 a month) for all players on a 2020 major league contract. Other players will receive distributions varying from $1,000 a day ($30,000 a month), $500 a day, and $275 a day, based upon their status and 2020 salary.

  • The Amateur Player Draft

Without a significant voice in this negotiation between MLB and the MLBPA (amateur players are not represented by the MLBPA and are not unionized), several modifications have been made to the draft process. MLB has negotiated numerous changes to the draft process, including the following:

– The original date of the 2020 draft can be moved from June 10th to July 20th

– The number of players to be selected will decrease as the number of rounds to select players has been reduced from 40, to as few as 5. The 2021 draft can also be reduced to as few as 20 rounds. Players undrafted as a result of the reduction of rounds would be only be eligible to receive only a $20,000 maximum signing bonus.

– Payment of signing bonuses will be delayed and the bulk of the bonus will be paid over a two-year period, without interest.

Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group continue to follow MLB and other professional sports as they try to plan for a resumption of competition. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with questions.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.