Another delayed start for a sports season. This time local ice hockey.
The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs and the Southern Professional Hockey League have announced that they are targeting mid-to-late December for the start of the 2020-2021 regular season.
SPHL Commissioner Doug Price furnished the details behind the league’s decision.
“With the continued spikes in COVID-19 throughout the country and the challenges other sports are facing in their attempts to resume play, delaying our start to December gives us the best chance of completing an entire season with all 10 teams,” Price stated. “In addition, various state restrictions on large gatherings and the economics of surrounding the uncertainty of having fans in our arenas in October or November, even at reduced capacity, makes it difficult for teams to guarantee the ability to generate the revenue needed to operate if we were to start any earlier.”
“After a health discussion among our Board of Governors, we just felt there are too many variables out of our control at this time to attempt starting on time,” Price added. “Delaying the season was a difficult decision, but I believe it was the responsible thing to do when taking everything into consideration.”
The 2020-2021 regular season schedule and playoff format will be announced at a later date.
The Rail Yard Dawgs season typically begins in early-October with training camps and looking at prospects as other leagues trim their rosters, so it remains to be seen if the revamped regular season will be extended further into the spring, or will be condensed with more games being played within the former time frame of ending the regular season by the first week of April.
The typical SPHL regular season has 56 games. Most games in previous years occurred on weekends to be more fan and family friendly. Condensing the lost games of October and November would mean adding more weeknight games that typical draw fewer fans.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to gain steam in March, the SPHL, like many other sports leagues from high school to college to the professional ranks, pulled the plug on their regular season and cancelled their playoffs. The Rail Yard Dawgs were hit particularly hard in that it lost its final seven home dates that equated to 25% of its home schedule for the season. That pushed the team into a challenging financial position with the lost revenue.
Another significant question that evolves from the delayed season is how long will players be able to hang on financially with no income. And, will young players simply move away from pursuing their dream in favor of starting a new career outside of playing hockey. Players are now thrust into limbo. Even older players have families to support and protect.
Long-time Rail Yard Dawg fan Maggie Drewry reflected on the season’s delayed start during a phone interview Saturday.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Drewry said of the season’s delay. “Two of the league’s teams, Peoria and Quad City play games in Illinois. Their Governor has already put limits on events and fan numbers. I just hope Roanoke can get in their entire season.”
The logistics can be a nightmare. The state mandates that each team functions under in the various SPHL states from Alabama to Indiana to Tennessee to Virginia vary significantly. In Illinois, for Peoria and Quad City, teams are under the state’s Phase 4. That means no events can be held and no fans can attend.