Brazil soccer tragedy brings pro sports leagues' disaster plans into focus

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

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

Major League Baseball's policy mandates a mourning period. The National Football League has one of the more detailed plans, broken up into “Near Disaster” and “Disaster" categories. The National Basketball Association 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."

The MLB plan would be utilized when five or more players are killed or permanently disabled due to 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 any such 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 is held in-season. If the draft takes place in the offseason, teams can 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 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 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 remainder 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 where 15 or more players were killed. Along with the "Near Disaster" protocols if the team is able to finish the season, that team would get the first overall pick in the NFL Draft and there would be a dispersal draft where 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 die or are 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 when five players are 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 is unable to reach one goalie and 14 skaters, a draft would be instituted to fill out the roster.

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

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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