Olympic postponement gives S. Korean baseball league breathing room

March 24, 2020

No different than virtually all other professional sports leagues around the world, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) was forced to adjust its regular season schedule in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak this spring.

The new season was slated to begin this Saturday, but the KBO announced this week that it will not start before April 20. The league’s initial goal of playing all 144 games in the compressed calendar seemed like a pipe dream — does anyone want to see baseball in late November? — but the KBO got an unlikely boost late Tuesday in the form of the postponed Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization are playing an intrasquad game at an empty Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 24, 2020. (Yonhap)
The Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization hold an intrasquad scrimmage at an empty Jamsil Stadium in Seoul on March 23, 2020. (Yonhap)

The Lotte Giants of the Korea Baseball Organization are playing an intrasquad game at an empty Sajik Stadium in Busan, 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on March 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

The KBO had planned an 18-day Olympic break from July 24-Aug. 10. South Korea, the defending Olympic baseball champion, was going to send a team made up almost entirely of KBO stars, and the league was willing to halt the season to accommodate them. But a delayed start to the season and the midseason hiatus would likely have meant postseason action into early winter here. And the KBO was willing to shorten the regular season, if COVID-19 forced further disruption and the Olympics remained on schedule.

But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo buckled under pressure and agreed to move the Olympics to 2021. And this means no need for an Olympic break in the KBO and an extra 18 days of window for schedule makers.

The stretch includes three Mondays. KBO teams typically don’t play Mondays, but the league has already said they may be forced to do so this year. Doubleheaders, which most KBO managers publicly dislike and privately despise, will be considered too.

If the new season does begin April 21 as the KBO hopes, the league will have lost 20 days worth of games at the start. In a normal setting, with the March 28 Opening Day and the Olympic break, the KBO was bracing for a mid-November finish. And even though the season will be pushed back by about a month because of the virus, the KBO may still be able to play 144 games and end around mid-November, thanks to the elimination of the Olympic hiatus.

The latest end to a KBO season came in 2018, when the SK Wyverns defeated the Doosan Bears in Game 6 of the Korean Series on Nov. 12. That regular season had a three-week midseason break due to the Asian Games in Indonesia.

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