What Happens if Disaster Strikes U.S. Pro Leagues?

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It shouldn't be the second -- or even third -- thought when it comes to tragedies such as the one that befell the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense, a team decimated by a plane crash Monday in Colombia that claimed 71 lives.

But, eventually, the games will go on, and professional sports leagues have had tragedy contingency plans in place for years.

Major League Baseball's policy mandates a mourning period. The NFL has one of the more detailed plans, broken up into "Near Disaster" and "Disaster" categories. The NBA calls for a disaster draft.

"In this era, most major sport organizations, leagues and teams have crisis management and communications plans in place for specific crises, which they must execute quickly," said Ted Kian, the Welch-Bridgewater Endowed Chair of Sports Media at Oklahoma State University. "You saw both quickly followed here when the South American football federation astutely suspended all other games and activities out of respect."

MLB's plan would be used if five or more players were killed or permanently disabled because of an "accident, epidemic or illness or other common event," according to guidelines obtained by USA TODAY Sports. The league would institute a mourning period after such an event and no games would be played.

"The Commissioner shall, after consultation with the players association, determine whether the disabled club is able to continue play until the conclusion of the championship season and postseason," the guidelines spell out. "The commissioner and the players association shall jointly resolve all scheduling issues that may arise from prolonged interruption or cancellation of the disabled club's season."

In a restocking draft, each team would be required to list five players from its active roster if the draft were held in-season. If the draft took place in the offseason, each team could make five players eligible from its reserve roster.

The MLB front office "shall exercise best efforts to maintain appropriate insurance to assist in the financial rehabilitation of a disabled club and other Major League Clubs affected by the occurrence giving rise to the disabled club."

Here's how the other leagues would handle such a disaster:

NFL: The NFL has had a disaster plan laid out for more than three decades.

"We do have a long-standing plan in the event NFL players are lost in a common accident," a league spokesman told USA TODAY Sports. "But today is not the day to discuss our plan out of respect for those who lost their lives."

According to ESPN, the league labels the loss of fewer than 15 players killed a "Near Disaster," which gives the impacted team the right to be the first to claim players off waivers for the rest of the season. That team would continue the season. If the quarterback was among those lost, it would be allowed to select a third-stringer from another team.

The commissioner would decide whether a team would continue in a "Disaster" scenario in which 15 or more players were killed. Along with the "Near Disaster" protocols if the team were able to finish the season, that team would get the first overall pick in the NFL draft and there would be a dispersal draft in which teams could protect as many as 32 players.

NBA: The NBA did not immediately comment.

The league would hold a disaster relief draft if five or more players died or were dismembered, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The other clubs would be able to protect five players if such a draft took place.

NHL: The stricken NHL team would be able to restock its roster if five players were killed or disabled, according to the NHL's Emergency Rehabilitation Plan. The team would be allowed to purchase player contracts from willing clubs. If the team were unable to reach one goalie and 14 skaters, a draft would be instituted to fill out the roster.

The impacted team would be allowed to select as many as two goalies and 18 skaters in the draft, and the team couldn't take more than one player from each of the other clubs. If a player were purchased from another team, the team that lost the player would be exempted from the draft.

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November 30, 2016


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