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Volume 26 No. 174

Coronavirus and Sports

Many NBA owners, execs and NBPA elders believe Commissioner Adam Silver "will green-light the return to play in June -- with games expected to resume sometime before the end of July," according to sources cited by Wojnarowski & Lowe of ESPN.com. Sources said that NBA teams are "expecting the league office will issue guidelines around June 1 that will allow franchises to start recalling players who've left their markets as a first step toward a formal ramp-up for the season's resumption." Sources added that teams "expect a similar timeline from the league on when they'll be allowed to expand individual workouts already underway with in-market players to include more team personnel." Sources also noted that the league is "discussing a step-by-step plan for a resumption of the season that includes an initial two-week recall of players into team marketplaces for a period of quarantine, one to two weeks of individual workouts at team facilities, and a two- to three-week formal training camp" (ESPN.com, 5/20). 

Disney World in Orlando is now being seen as the front runner to host the NBA return
Photo: ESPN IMAGES
Disney World in Orlando is now being seen as the front runner to host the NBA return
Photo: ESPN IMAGES
Disney World in Orlando is now being seen as the front runner to host the NBA return
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

DESTINATION ORLANDO? THE ATHLETIC's Charania & Amick cited sources as saying that Orlando’s Walt Disney World Resort is the "clear frontrunner to become the NBA’s playing site" to resume the season (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/20). In L.A., Kyle Goon reported Lakers F Jared Dudley "characterized conversations with the player’s union as leaving some opening for players to have the ability to leave the site." Dudley said that Silver and NBPA Exec Dir Michele Roberts "indicated that some movement would be permitted." Dudley: “It’s going to be a bubble in the sense of here’s gonna be your hotel where you stay at, here’s gonna be the gym where you play at, but you will be allowed to leave" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/21).

DETAILS TO WORK OUT: In N.Y., Marc Berman writes the "biggest question still unanswered is format, including how many teams will be brought back to play" (N.Y. POST, 5/21). Also in N.Y., Kristian Winfield writes the "prevailing thought" since the NBA suspended play on March 11 had been that the league "would relocate its teams to a bubble city and include frequent testing as a measure of mitigating the virus’ spread" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/21). 

IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE RIGHT: THE RINGER's Kevin O'Connor reported close to 400 people from about half of the league’s teams have "voluntarily participated in Mayo Clinic’s antibodies study." Roberts said that that players were "fully on board with providing samples." O'Connor writes the NBA’s primary objective is to "help a study that could be integral to the recovery efforts of the entire U.S. -- including every person involved with the NBA, from concession workers to security at arenas" (THERINGER.com, 4/20). However, there are team execs who are "frustrated" that the league's return process has been "slowed by the lack of widespread COVID-19 testing" on a national level. One Western Conference exec said, "Selfishly, we could know a lot more about where we stand by now, and it would have allowed Adam and the players to work on more solid plans" (BOSTON HERALD, 5/21).

LEADING THE WAY: In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes under the header, "NBA Leading The Way Back Is How It Should Be." Vaccaro writes, "There seems to be a leader in charge -- Adam Silver -- who all parties trust, certainly in relation to the way most of these relationships have always been in pro sports" (N.Y. POST, 5/21). 

MLBers believe the in-ballpark protocols will be tough to maintain; others worry about off-the-field regulations
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
MLBers believe the in-ballpark protocols will be tough to maintain; others worry about off-the-field regulations
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
MLBers believe the in-ballpark protocols will be tough to maintain; others worry about off-the-field regulations
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Some MLBers are "hoping for tweaks" to the league's recent health-protocols proposal, as discussions between MLB and the MLBPA "continue about how to safely restart during the coronavirus pandemic," according to Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. Players "want to know whether some in-stadium and clubhouse restrictions can be loosened based on the plan to frequently test players and staff for the virus." MLB's protocols inside club facilities "call for major changes to previously normal routines." From "no spitting -- or even showering -- allowed at the field, to the discontinued use of recovery equipment -- such as hydrotherapy pools and cryotherapy chambers -- many aspects of day-to-day life would change." Marlins P Brandon Kintzler said, "Not getting to use any of the facilities that help recover our bodies is going to be a problem." Rogers noted while some players "believe the in-stadium protocols will be tough to maintain, others are worried about the off-the-field regulations." Still, Cardinals SS Paul DeJong said that while there "might be some potholes from the health proposal, none are big enough to derail the return of the sport" (ESPN.com, 5/20). Pirates manager Derek Shelton said that MLB's proposal is a "'a first draft' that is 'challenging' -- and he hopes will be improved." He said, "Once we get this proposal in people’s hands and people are able to talk about it back and forth, we’ll probably come to something that’s more workable for everyone" (TRIBLIVE.com, 5/20).

DOOMSDAY SCENARIO: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes if the season was "unable to start because of COVID-19, with too many players and employees fearful of their safety, it’d be perfectly understandable." But if there is no MLB played this year because the owners and players "can’t agree on salaries, it would make the cancellation of the 1994 World Series feel like a doubleheader rainout in June." Nightengale: "It would destroy the sport" (USA TODAY, 5/21). In Boston, Michael Silverman writes both the league and the union are "aware of the outcry that would result from a standoff that lasts long enough to scrap the restart plan," as there would be a "ruinous negative reaction to no agreement" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/21).

LOOKING AT THE OPTIONS: In N.Y., Joel Sherman notes the union, "if it allows itself, could actually be in a position of leverage." It is "clear how desperate MLB is to want to play some form of a season and, especially, postseason." Perhaps "so desperate that all the union has to do is keep saying 'no' to everything and eventually MLB will cave and give the pro-rata salaries to save the season." But that strategy is "risky," for there are owners who "would rather not play than add to their 2020 losses." Thus, the players also have to be "in the solution business" (N.Y. POST, 5/21).

TOO MUCH? In Minneapolis, Patrick Reusse writes the "average playing field in major league baseball covers 2.49 acres, or 108,464 square feet." That is one of the "great advantages for baseball in our virus world, and should make it much easier to resume playing the actual game than for the other major sports." MLB's 67-page proposal "could have been done with one page of eight dos and don’ts, but that would not have been viewed as a properly over-the-top virus response by various state leaders" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/21). In Philadelphia, David Murphy writes under the header, "Masks In The Dugout? Is Major League Baseball Serious? Let’s Hope Not." Murphy: "I can’t think of a worse way to erode a society’s collective sense of self-determination than to create a world in which every action and interaction is conducted with an explicit reminder that it could result in death" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/21).

The MLB Rangers' Globe Life Field is "contracted to host 49 high school graduations, starting May 29" and more could be added, as the graduations could be "considered something of a dry run for what it might look like when -- and if -- fans are allowed in Globe Life Field for games this season," according to Evan Grant of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Seats for graduates in the lower bowl "will have three seats between them." Families will "sit at a level higher and there will be social distancing between separate family units." A graduation "could bring as many as 5,000 people into the stadium." If MLB does allow fans in at some point this season, it is "likely crowds would be limited to perhaps 25 or 50 percent of capacity." Rangers Exec VP/Business Operations Rob Matwick said of graduations serving as something of a dry run for issues with even bigger crowds, "That would be a fair assumption. We've had a lot of internal conversations about what a return to play might look like" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/21). Rangers Exec VP/Communications John Blake in an email wrote that the costs per district "varies depending on the number of ceremonies, graduates and the total number of attendees, but the costs cover the Rangers' operational expenses to host the ceremonies, which includes enhanced cleaning procedures and increased staffing" (Ft. Worth STAR-TELEGRAM, 5/21).

VIRTUAL GRADUATION: The 49ers and student-first learning platform Chegg, Inc. announced that they will partner to host a virtual graduation for those across the country who are a part of the Class of '20. The graduation will be live-streamed on 49ers.com, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for fans on May 30 at 5:00pm PT. The virtual ceremony will be hosted by senior team reporter Keiana Martin and include special appearances by 49ers players, musical performances, a commencement address given by former 49ers OT Joe Staley and congratulatory messages for fans across the country (49ers).

The league likely will look to incorporate elements from its outdoor games and the All-Star Game
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The league likely will look to incorporate elements from its outdoor games and the All-Star Game
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The league likely will look to incorporate elements from its outdoor games and the All-Star Game
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer called it "obvious" that the league will have to restart with no fans if and when it is able to resume, according to LeBrun & Burnside of THE ATHLETIC. Given that, Mayer wondered, "How do you make the environment visually exciting, how do you make what you’re listening to exciting as well? And how do you make it feel and look a little different from game to game, I think that's also one of the challenges." He continued, "I'll give you a hint into the way I think, look at our outdoor games, look at our All-Star Game, look at the way the environment looks and that'll probably give you a hint as to at least how my team and I are thinking." Mayer said the NHL's return-to-play plans are "ever-evolving" and "changing all the time." He addressed the criteria the league is searching for in hub cities: "We're back down to what I would consider a workable group [of cities]. We're not narrowing it down (to the final hub cities) until we have to. ... Our criteria have been fairly simple. ... It will be an NHL city that will host whether we’re in two cities or in four cities. We needed also an arena that can handle four to six teams, locker-rooms, not every arena can do that" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/20).

WESTERN CANADIAN OPTIONS: In Edmonton, Robert Tychkowski notes the Oilers, who have been "pushing hard behind the scenes to become an NHL hub city if the season resumes, are now taking their case public." The way they see it, Edmonton's Ice District and the city's overall response to COVID-19 "should make it an automatic choice to host one of the 12-team playoff groups." Oilers Entertainment Group Senior VP/Communications Tim Shipton said, "We've been working diligently with the NHL, the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton on a host bid. ... Edmonton should be right at the top of the list" (EDMONTON SUN, 5/21). SPORTSNET.ca's Iain MacIntyre noted Vancouver also is an "appealing candidate to stage the NHL playoffs." There were "just two new cases of COVID-19 reported by the province on Tuesday," and British Columbia’s coronavirus mortality rate is the "lowest of any jurisdiction in North America or Western Europe that contains at least five million residents." In addition, Rogers Arena is "downtown, walking distance to several luxury hotels," and both Burnaby Eight Rinks and the three sheets of ice at the Univ. of British Columbia are "available as practice venues a short drive away" (SPORTSNET.ca, 5/20).

BORDER WAR: In Vancouver, Ben Kuzma notes the "'us versus them' between Vancouver and Edmonton would pit the workable Rogers Arena against the expansive Rogers Place, JW Marriott against JW Marriott, and Ice District vs. Yaletown." It is "probably going to either be Vancouver or Edmonton for serious consideration because if Vegas gets a nod, that’s two sites in the west for either hosting concept." If it is just two hubs in a 12-team concept, "what about Toronto or Columbus, Ohio?" With eight or nine cities still being vetted for hosting, the league "doesn’t want the Canucks or the Oilers exchanging verbal jabs" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 5/21).

Scott is worried he could pick up the virus from someone who is asymptomatic
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Scott is worried he could pick up the virus from someone who is asymptomatic
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Scott is worried he could pick up the virus from someone who is asymptomatic
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Golfer Adam Scott is “unsatisfied with the … PGA Tour's safety measures,” and will not play in the Tour’s first six tournaments back, according to Evin Priest of the AAP. Scott, who is in Australia during the shutdown, said, “They are being fairly thorough, but my initial reaction was I was surprised it wasn't tighter than it is. What concerns me is dialogue that (the tour) is hopeful of returning one or two-hour test (results). You'd want that in place before competing. The other (concern) is it seems an asymptomatic person could operate within a tournament. If they're not showing symptons and I somehow picked it up inside the course and I'm disqualified I'm now self-isolating (in that city) for two weeks. I'd be annoyed if that happened. I thought you'd start quite tight and loosen those protocols to normal if appropriate." Priest noted the Tour’s safety precautions include “layers of coronavirus testing for players, caddies and support personnel as well as using chartered flights between events” (AAP, 5/20).

SIGN OF THINGS TO COME? Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard predicted Scott's comments are “going to be echoed by other players, particularly international players.” Hoggard: “If you compare what the PGA Tour’s health and safety plan is to other professional leagues -- I mean the NBA reported last week that they’re going need somewhere in the neighborhood of 17,000 tests to get back to playing. Granted, basketball is much different than golf. But if you compare it, if the PGA Tour needs about 400 test a week, which is what we were told, that's about 5,000 tests by the end of the season. It’s not even close." Hoggard acknowledged the Tour does not have a "perfect plan" and notes it is "trying to work with this in a bubble, to create this bubble." Hoggard: "It's going to change as we go along, and I would expect the protocols to maybe tighten up as we get closer to Colonial and then further into the season” (“Morning Drive,” Golf Channel, 5/21).

ALWAYS LOOKING TO IMPROVE: Golfer Charley Hoffman notes the PGA Tour's policies are "not set in stone and we’re not acting like we have all the answers.” Hoffman, the Chair of the 16-member Player Advisory Council, said of the current safety plan, "It’s very comprehensive and detailed but I wouldn’t say it’s the end-all by any means.” However, he believes that the Tour has "prepared as well as it could for the restart" next month at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Ft. Worth (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 5/21).

The move to October puts the Classic in a more advantageous spot on the LPGA schedule
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The move to October puts the Classic in a more advantageous spot on the LPGA schedule
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The move to October puts the Classic in a more advantageous spot on the LPGA schedule
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The ShopRite LPGA Classic "has been rescheduled again" because of the coronavirus pandemic and "now hopes to be played Oct. 2-4," according to Michael McGarry of the PRESS OF ATLANTIC CITY. The tourney was previously scheduled to be played July 29-31. Tim Erensen, Managing Partner of Eiger Marketing Group, which owns and operates the Classic, said, "This buys us another two months for the world to get closer to whatever the new normal is going to be." Erensen said that the event "hopes to have fans attend and also hold its pro-am events." McGarry notes the 54-hole tourney also "received another purse boost and now boasts a tournament record" $2M in prize money. The purse was "increased because sponsors of LPGA events that were canceled by the pandemic have offered some of their prize funds to increase purses for remaining events." The move to October also "puts the Classic in a more advantageous spot on the LPGA schedule." Meanwhile, the LPGA had "planned to play the Meijer Classic in Michigan from Oct. 1-4," but that event was canceled yesterday (PRESS OF ATLANTIC CITY, 5/21).

RETAINING STATUS: LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan announced that LPGA and Symetra Tour status earned for the '20 season "will be retained" for the '21 season. GOLFWEEK.com's Julie Williams noted the seasons "will be combined for the purpose of eligibility even as they historically remain two distinct seasons." The decision effectively "protects a player from losing the status she earned in 2020 because of a lack of opportunities or hesitation about returning to competition before she's ready." The LPGA also announced that there "will be no Q-School or Q-Series in the fall" (GOLFWEEK.com, 5/20).

SAFETY PROTOCOLS: GOLFCHANNEL.com's Randall Mell noted part of the new LPGA safety protocols for returning amid the coronavirus pandemic stipulates that players "will be allowed to carry their own bags for the rest of the 2020 season, if they so choose." This is a "temporary option designed to protect players who don't have regular tour caddies, who may feel a heightened risk working with unfamiliar local caddies." Still, the news "didn't land well among LPGA caddies eager to return when the tour makes its scheduled restart this summer" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 5/20).

It is uncertain whether fans will be allowed to attend the NWSL tournament set to start next month outside Salt Lake City, but the "hope is a small, possibly previously selected group of fans can attend to start," according to Alex Vejar of the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE. The number of fans allowed at games then would grow "as restrictions in the state continue to lift." The majority of Utah is "currently under 'yellow' risk level, but certain cities, like Salt Lake, are still in 'orange.'" All nine NWSL clubs will play in the event, which will be held June 29-July 22 at Rio Tinto Stadium and Zions Bank Stadium. Coronavirus testing "will be 'regular,' but the [exact] frequency is yet to be determined." Players and staff "won't be quarantined, but will have restrictions on what they do off the field." The teams will stay "in the dormitories near RSL's training facility and at some hotels" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 5/20).

Cubs employees will be "taking pay cuts and have been guaranteed employment through at least the end of June," according to sources cited by ESPN's Jeff Passan. A majority of the cuts "will be for 15% or less" (TWITTER.com, 5/20). In Chicago, Paul Sullivan reported employees in the baseball operations and business operations departments and those with uniform employee contracts -- which "includes manager David Ross and his coaches, scouts, minor-league managers and coaches and other non-playing personnel -- are all affected by the salary reductions." A source said that the percentage of the cuts vary, with "higher-salaried employees receiving cuts of up to 35%" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/21). THE ATHLETIC's Patrick Mooney reported "roughly two-thirds of Cubs employees" will see a pay reduction of 15% or less. The Cubs reductions come after the Reds last week announced that they "will institute pay cuts as well as furloughs that involve less than" 25% of the franchise's employees. The Angels also have "begun informing baseball operations employees that furloughs will be enacted after June 1." The Marlins "will furlough 90-100 baseball operations employees on June 1" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/20).

The Hockey HOF will hold an “electronic vote via teleconference for its 2020 inductees, ending its traditional paper ballots and in-person board meeting because of the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Kevin McGran of the TORONTO STAR. The 18 members of the voting committee instead will “debate each of the nominees remotely on June 23 and cast their ballots for this year’s class the following day.” That process “could be here to stay” depending on how it goes. The ’20 induction ceremony “is set for Nov. 16, but that too could change given the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding the NHL’s schedule.” Meanwhile, the HOF has been closed during the shutdown and HOF President & CEO Jeff Denomme said that staffers “in the stores selling merchandise and selling tickets for admission ... have been laid off but 38 employees remain” (TORONTO STAR, 5/20). 

Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day '19 to commemorate the team’s 50th anniversary season
Photo: Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day '19 to commemorate the team’s 50th anniversary season
Photo: Ballast Point Brewing Co.
Swingin’ Friar Ale made its debut on Opening Day '19 to commemorate the team’s 50th anniversary season
Photo: Ballast Point Brewing Co.

Ballast Point Brewing and The Padres Foundation will donate $1 to Feeding San Diego for each case of Swingin’ Friar Ale that is sold from March through June 30. Swingin’ Friar Ale, the official craft beer of the Padres, made its debut on Opening Day '19 to commemorate the team’s 50th anniversary season. The beer is named for the Padres’ iconic Friar mascot and is available only in San Diego. Petco Park boasts two Ballast Point-branded destinations: The Craft Pier and The Draft. The beer maker was acquired in December by Chicago-area craft brewery Kings & Convicts, but the Feeding San Diego effort shows the brand’s continued commitment to its hometown city. “San Diego is the birthplace of Ballast Point and those roots are steeped in over 24 years of hometown history,” Ballast Point CEO Brendan Watters said in an email. “When the pandemic hit, Feeding San Diego responded quickly to the growing demand for hunger relief. We want to do what we can to support, and the Padres continue to be a great partner for Ballast Point and for the city of San Diego. It made sense to join forces.”