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We've always been interested in helping our readers to watch sports without cable. Usually, that just means pointing out our favorite cord-cutting tricks, like the live TV “skinny bundles” we use to watch ESPN without cable, the free over-the-air TV that gets us major-network coverage, and great league- and sport-specific solutions like MLB.TV. During this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, though, things are a little more complicated. Finding cable-free solution isn't the only thing we'll have to do to find sports coverage as cord cutters right now. We'll also need to figure out which sports are coming back after coronavirus shutdowns, and when. We'll need to know what the plans are, and whether things might still go wrong. When are the games? What will the playoffs look like? And how can we watch it all?

It's a lot to figure out, and a lot to keep up with. But we're keeping our sports-related “How to Watch” pages as up-to-date as possible with all of the twists and turns in sporting returns. Read on for a sport-by-sport breakdown, complete with details on the planned schedules and links to our guides for cable-free fans. We'll also cover potential alternatives for sports fans who can't wait until their favorite league comes back.

 

Coronavirus and the NFL

Full article: How to Watch the NFL Without Cable

Is the NFL coming back?

It's back!

When is the NFL coming back?

Right on schedule. The NFL is kicking off on time this season, beginning with a Chiefs-Texans showdown on Thursday, September 10th.

What will the NFL look like during the coronavirus pandemic?

The NFL made some changes due to the pandemic, including canceling preseason games. But the plan for the regular season looks more or less like business as usual: The league is going with the usual 16-game schedule, complete with home games and even, in some cases, live attendance. The decision to let fans into stadiums is being made on a team-by-team basis. Some teams are opening their stadiums at reduced capacities, while other teams are keeping their stands empty. Rules against artificial crowd noise are suspended this season, so teams without fans in the stands will be able to pipe in some cheers.

Could it still go wrong?

At this point, who knows? For now, the NFL plans to keep moving forward with as normal a schedule as possible. But the NFL isn't using a “bubble” to quarantine its teams, like the NFL and NBA are. The bubble-free MLB return was plagued by positive tests among players and canceled games, and the NFL has a few disadvantages — among other issues, its teams carry many more active players than MLB teams do, the sport involves far more contact between players, and the league's once-a-week schedule for games would make cancellations and postponements even more of a nightmare than they've been for MLB. With all of that said, infection rates are stabilizing. Nobody knows for sure what the fall will bring, but we'll be rooting for the NFL and a much-needed return to normalcy.

NFL alternatives during the Coronavirus pandemic

There's no substitute for NFL football, but some similar sports could provide impatient football fans with some relief during quarantine. Things are looking grim for the CFL and Canadian football (a different form of gridiron football that is very similar to the American version), but some other sports are here to help us pass the time.

  • Australian rules football, which is similar in some ways to America's version of football, is back in action Down Under. You can stream it on Fox Sports 1. Here's how to watch FS1 without cable.
  • Rugby is back in some countries, including New Zealand, which is reportedly totally free of COVID-19. You'll find Rugby streams on YouTube, Facebook, and other live-streaming sites. ESPN airs it sometimes, too.

 

Coronavirus and the NBA

Full article: How to Watch the NBA Without Cable

Is the NBA coming back?

It's back!

When is the NBA coming back?

The NBA returned on July 30.

What will the NBA look like during the coronavirus pandemic?

Don't expect any home games. All of the returning NBA teams will play in Orlando, Florida's Walt Disney World Resort. Rather than re-start the regular season, the NBA is heading straight into a modified playoff system. And not all the of the teams are coming back: Eight are staying home, leaving 22 of the NBA's 30 teams in action. Eight “seeding games” will be played between some of the teams to sort out final playoff seedings. A play-off tournament will narrow the field down to the usual 16 teams, and then the playoffs will proceed as usual.

Could it still go wrong?

So far, the NBA's return has been remarkably successful. The NBA's bubble strategy seems to be working, and the situation surrounding the bubble — once precarious, with infection rates skyrocketing in Florida — has finally stabilized. With Florida looking healthier and the bubble's quarantine measures holding strong, there are plenty of reasons to hope that the NBA's plan comes off without a hitch.

NBA alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic

Looking for some NBA alternatives? Check out these out:

  • The WNBA will return for a 22-game season. You can catch the action on ESPN. Here's how to watch ESPN without cable.
  • The EuroLeague season has been canceled for good, but some individual European countries have domestic leagues in action within their borders. Spain's Liga ACB is a good one to check out. Tracking down streams is tough for Liga ACB, but Eleven Sports has had broadcasts in the past. Keep an eye out for enterprising teams from various European leagues; if we're lucky, they may broadcast games on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Twitch.

 

Coronavirus and MLB

Full article: How to Watch MLB Without Cable

Is MLB coming back?

It's back!

When is MLB coming back?

Baseball returned on July 23.

What will MLB look like during the coronavirus pandemic?

The 2020 MLB regular season will be 60 games long (much shorter than the usual 162). It will be followed by the playoffs, which will be temporarily expanded this year to include 8 teams per league (that's the usual division winners and two wild-card teams, plus an extra three wild-card teams). Teams will play mostly within their division, and out-of-division games will be against teams from the opposite league's corresponding division (in other words, the National League East will play the American League East, the NL Central will play the AL Central, and the NL West will play the AL West).

Major League Baseball recently announced that, come playoff time, the league will be switching to playing in a bubble.

Could it still go wrong?

It could. Major League Baseball is moving forward with a relatively ambitious plan that involves home fields and air travel. MLB teams have relatively large rosters, and the league's return has already been plagued by positive tests and canceled games. A flurry of incidents earlier in the season almost derailed baseball's plan, but things seem to be under control again — for now, anyway.

MLB alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic

Missing baseball during quarantine? Check out these alternatives:

  • Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, easily the second-strongest league after MLB, is proceeding with its season. DAZN has the streaming rights.
  • ESPN is airing Korean professional baseball live most mornings and overnight on some weekend days.
  • Chinese Professional Baseball, the pro baseball league in Taiwan, is playing its season right now. You can watch some teams on Twitch and/or YouTube.

 

Coronavirus and the NHL

Full article: How to Watch the NHL Without Cable

Is the NHL coming back?

It's back!

When is the NHL coming back?

The puck dropped on August 1, and we should have our Stanley Cup champions in October.

What will the NHL look like during the coronavirus pandemic?

The NHL is returning with a giant playoff tournament. Of the league's 31 teams, all but seven will return for a massive 24-team playoff tournament. That's more than three-quarters of the league, and every team will have a chance to win it all. The top four teams in each conference will play a round-robin tournament to determine seeding, while the other 16 teams duke it out in 5-game playoff series for the right to meet the top eight in the next round. From there, the 16 teams will play out the playoffs in the usual format. Each game will happen in one of two “hub” cities, rather than in the usual home arenas, in order to minimize travel. After plans to use U.S. cities were scrapped, the NHL's plan adopted Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta as the two hub cities.

Could things still go wrong?

Anything is possible, but the NHL's return has gone pretty well so far. The bubble method has been working well for hockey, just as it has for basketball.

NHL alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic

Hockey fans are pretty short of alternatives this year. Russia's KHL has ended its season due to COVID-19 and will not return. Leagues in Finland and Sweden have called it quits, too. Here in the states, the NWHL was cut off just before its Isobel Cup Final in March, and will not return.

 

Coronavirus and Soccer

Full articles: How to Watch Soccer Without Cable, How to Watch the Premier League Without Cable

Is soccer coming back?

It's back!

When is soccer coming back?

Many leagues, including the English Premier League, Spain's La Liga, and Germany's Bundesliga, are already back. The United States' own soccer league, MLS, returned on July 8.

What will soccer look like during the coronavirus pandemic?

Each league is handling things a little differently. Many leagues are playing out shortened schedules and crowning champions based on regular-season records, which is the norm in soccer. Some post-season and international tournaments have been canceled. In the United States, the MLS is resuming with a league-wide tournament in Florida. At some point, MLS will move from its Florida games to local home games. The games from the tournament will count as regular-season games.

Could it still go wrong?

In most places, resumed play is going reasonably well (some leagues are already wrapping up a successful second part of the season). In the U.S., things are looking a little dodgier. After a tournament in a Florida bubble, MLS is back to playing home games and having teams travel. It has gone well so far, but there is a risk to this kind of approach.

Soccer alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic

If your favorite league isn't playing right now, check out one of those that are! Here are the biggest soccer leagues playing right now.

  • Germany's Bundesliga is in action. Games air on FS1 and on Fox.
  • The English Premier League has a champion, but there are still games to play. Catch them on NBC and NBC Sports.
  • Spain's La Liga season is underway once again. You can watch games on beIN Sports.
  • Italy's Serie A is back, too. Find games on ESPN.

 

Coronavirus and College Football

Full article: How to Watch College Football Without Cable

Is college football coming back?

It's back! …Well, in some places, anyway.

As of this writing, decision-making is fragmented across conferences and individual teams. Some conferences — the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the Mountain West, and the MAC — are planning on coming back in the spring, rather than on schedule in the fall. The Ivy League has canceled the season entirely. Other conferences and teams are coming back on schedule.

When is college football coming back?

C0llege football returned in early September, though not every school is back in action right now.

What will college football look like during the coronavirus pandemic?

College football this year will be a very different experience for fans. Some teams are allowing fans into games on a limited basis, while others are keeping the stands empty. Meanwhile, the college football powers that be will have to wrestle with the implications of decisions made by the Big Ten, Pac-12, and others to play in the spring. How will the national championship and bowl games work?

Meanwhile, player safety issues may be difficult to reconcile with the “amateurism” that the NCAA is built on. How will schools handle positive tests? Would a playoff “bubble” be possible — or ethical — without giving unpaid players a say? Debates like this may have a big impact on how college football looks for years to come; for example, some players have raised the possibility of forming a union.

Could it still go wrong?

Yes, it could — in fact, as noted above, there are plenty of problems already. Even as play begins (for some teams and conferences, anyway), college football has some structural disadvantages that make it ill-equipped to deal with pandemic-related problems while the season wears on.

College football has all of the problems that other big sports have, plus at least one major problem that the pros don't have: It relies on unpaid “amateur” players, so there's not really a framework set up for the sort of bargaining that has allowed professional sports to hammer out consensus plans for a coronavirus return. If there are player safety issues with the NCAA's unpaid workforce of college students, that's going to be a much bigger problem than it is in, say, the NBA, where well-paid players can agree to quarantine in a hub city together.

Community spread is an issue, too, as college campuses have increasingly become COVID-19 hot spots. Plus, some of college football's biggest programs are located in regions that are themselves current or recent hot spots for the virus.

College football alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic

There's nothing quite like American football. But, as we noted in our section on the NFL, there are some similar sports to check out.

  • Australian rules football airs on FS1.
  • You can catch some rugby on ESPN, as well as on YouTube and through some social media outlets.
  • As of this writing, the NFL is expected to return to the field and to your TV

 

NASCAR

Full article: How to Watch NASCAR Without Cable

Is NASCAR coming back?

It's back!

When is NASCAR coming back?

NASCAR started racing again on May 17.

What will NASCAR look like during the coronavirus pandemic?

NASCAR's season is proceeding more or less as usual. There are new rules regarding driver substitutions related to illness. There are also, of course, new safety rules, including regulations for the professionals as well as limitations on fan attendance.

Could it still go wrong?

NASCAR is looking pretty safe right now. There will continue to be social distancing issues with crews and teams, but NASCAR has some advantages over big team sports with huge indoor locker rooms. Individual stars have tested positive for coronavirus, including Jimmy Johnson, but races are continuing as scheduled. Expect NASCAR to be able to stay on track.

NASCAR alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic

NASCAR's season is in full swing once again, but there are other ways to get your racing fix, too.

  • Formula 1 is returning in July. You can catch races on ABC and ESPN. Here's how to watch ABC without cable.
  • Indycar is back, too. NBCSN is your best bet for catching the action.