Since the advent of modern mass transportation, there have been accidents that killed all or nearly all members of various sports teams. The 1949 Torino Football Club had only one survivor following a plane crash. Two teams in the Canadian Football League lost players, returning from an all-star game, in the 1956 crash of Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810.
Other incidents since then have involved the 1958 Manchester United football team, 1960 Cal Poly football team, 1960 Minneapolis Lakers basketball team (no fatalities), 1961 United States figure skating team, 1970 Wichita State University football team, 1970 Marshall University football team, 1977 University of Evansville basketball team, 1980 United States boxing team, 1993 Zambia national football team, 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team, 2016 Associação Chapecoense de Futebol team (Brasil), and the 2018 Humboldt Broncos ice hockey team (bus crash).
As a result of these accidents, some professional sports leagues have developed disaster recovery plans should such an incident befall one or more of their teams.
An affected team is expected to replace players using the minor leagues and by signing free agents. Each league, however, has established procedures to decide whether an accident is of sufficient scale to activate contingency plans to help rebuild an affected team's roster, typically involving a special draft.
Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball's disaster plan is covered in Rule 29 of its official rules. The plan is triggered by an event causing the death, dismemberment, or permanent disability of at least five players from a team's active, injured, or suspended roster during a season (including the playoffs), or at least six players during the off-season. Major League Baseball's commissioner will decide if the disabled club can continue play, in consultation with the MLB Players' Association and the club.
If the commissioner decides that the disabled club will continue to play, the commissioner may hold a Restocking Draft to allow the disabled club to select as many players as it lost, with the restriction that no more than one player can be selected from each team. Each of the non-disabled teams makes five players available for the draft taken from its active list (or if during the off-season, from its reserve list), composed of one pitcher, one catcher, one outfielder, one infielder, and one more player of any position, subject to adjustments by the commissioner based on the players lost by the disabled club. If a team has fewer than three eligible catchers, it does not have to provide a catcher to the draft. The non-disabled teams also are required to make available as many players with 60 or more days of Major League service time as of 31 August of the season preceding such draft as the number of such players lost by the disabled team. Any player with no-trade rights with regards to the disabled team may not be made available unless the player waives the right.
If the commissioner decides that the disabled club cannot continue play, the commissioner will cancel the disabled club's season.
The commissioner and Players' Association can also agree upon other appropriate relief for a disabled club.
National Basketball Association
The National Basketball Association (NBA) contingency plan activates if five or more players on a team "die or are dismembered". A special "disaster draft" would be held in which other NBA teams could only protect five players, so that quality sixth men would be available. No more than one player would be drafted from a team.
National Football League
The National Football League (NFL)'s contingency plan provides for both a "near-disaster" and a "disaster". A "near-disaster" is defined as fewer than 15 players on a team being disabled, and a "disaster" is 15 or more.
No special draft would be held for a "near-disaster"; the team would instead get preferential rights on any waivers until the end of the season. If a quarterback is among the fewer than 15 lost, the team would be able to draft up to two quarterbacks from all NFL teams with three available. Each team would be able to protect two, and the drafted quarterbacks would return to their original teams in the following season.
For a "disaster", the commissioner would determine whether to cancel the team's schedule for the season. If the team's season is canceled, the team would have the first pick in the next regular draft; a special draft would also be held in which each team would be able to protect 32 players. If not canceled, the "near-disaster" procedures would be used.
National Hockey League
The National Hockey League (NHL) contingency plan activates if five or more players on a team "are killed or disabled". The team would select players from other NHL teams, paying with funds from a special insurance fund. Once its roster has one goaltender and 14 other players, a special draft involving the teams unaffected by the earlier selection could be held, with each team able to protect one goaltender and 10 other players.
Major League Soccer
Within its roster regulations, Major League Soccer has what it refers to as an "extreme hardship" provision, which can be used if "a team has less than 15 available players". However, this is a mechanism intended to be used on a "game-by-game basis", and any contingency plans that may exist for a disaster draft scenario are not public.
Kontinental Hockey League
The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) contingency plan was implemented after the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash that killed the team's entire traveling roster. In the policy, each team makes three players eligible for the disaster draft, with the team that suffered the disaster being able to call up five players from its farm teams. There is no mention of a goaltender minimum for the draft, unlike the NFL disaster draft on quarterbacks or NHL disaster draft on goaltenders, or a mention of a team being able to surrender only one player, unlike other leagues, in the draft. Until 2016, the afflicted team would have had have a spot in the draft lottery, thus guaranteeing that the team would have picked at least as high as 4th overall in the next KHL Junior Draft and it would also have been able to protect any player it wants for the next five entry drafts.
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- Major League Baseball (2008). "Major League Rules (2008)" (PDF). The Biz of Baseball. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 June 2011. Retrieved 9 September 2011. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Major League Rules 29(b)(3)(A)(iii) Service. Subject to paragraph (b)(3)(A)(i) above, each Club that is not a Disabled Club shall include in its list of available players for a Restocking Draft at least as many players who have accrued no less than 60 days of Major League service time as of 31 August of the season preceding such Restocking Draft as the Disabled Club lost.
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