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Volume 27 No. 5

Coronavirus and Sports

Manfred has the right to deliver a season schedule after "good faith" negotiations with the union
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Manfred has the right to deliver a season schedule after "good faith" negotiations with the union
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Manfred has the right to deliver a season schedule after "good faith" negotiations with the union
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB has "discussed playing a shorter schedule in which it would pay members" of the MLBPA their "full prorated salaries," according to sources cited by Jeff Passan of ESPN.com. Sources said that although MLB "does not intend to propose this to the players, the possibility of implementing a schedule of around 50 games that would start in July has been considered by the league as a last resort in the event that the parties can't come to a deal." Players in an offer Sunday proposed a 114-game schedule that "would cover 70.3% of their original salaries." A 50-game schedule with "full pro rata would pay the players 30.8% of that number." Language in the March agreement "appears to give Commissioner Rob Manfred the right to deliver a season schedule after 'good faith' discussions between the league and the union." However, a shortened schedule "would run contrast to what the players sought in the proposal sent to the league Sunday" (ESPN.com, 6/1). In DC, Dave Sheinin writes the 50-to-60-game concept was "less a proposal than an assertion" by MLB that its March agreement with the MLBPA gave Manfred "wide powers to determine the length of the 2020 season absent further agreement with the union." It will "still take some negotiating to get to a deal" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/2).

NEGOTIATING TACTICS: THE ATHLETIC's Rosenthal & Drellich write from 10,000 feet, both sides "appear to be exercising basic powers they seemed to gain in their infamous March agreement." The league is saying “you can’t stop us from starting the season,” and the players are saying “you can’t make us take less pay.” For competitive reasons, the league "still would prefer a schedule that is longer than 50-odd games but believes fans would be happy to see baseball return in any form." Some sources on both sides "believe there is room to hammer out a deal that includes changes beyond this year by including protections for free agency this winter, or even a minimum payroll commitment for 2021." But negotiating such elements would "prolong the process, and neither side is moving expeditiously, making that approach unlikely" (THEATHLETIC.com, 6/2). 

MUCH AT STAKE: On Long Island, David Lennon writes the "only thing anyone truly wants to know is what this all means in terms of getting a deal done." In relation to last week's "bleak outlook, this has to count as progress, especially in the wake of the outlandish proposals that were swapped by the two sides." Lennon: "At least it feels as if we're not moving backward anymore, and that has to be encouraging, right?" (NEWSDAY, 6/2). In N.Y., Joel Sherman writes the players "must find a way to solution." Perhaps that is "playing chicken and getting the owners to pay them the full prorated share." But it "can't be misreading that, which leads to no games, which would mean no salary now and less in the future" (N.Y. POST, 6/2). In Boston, Peter Abraham writes if MLB "screws this up, 17 months will pass between the end of the 2019 World Series and the start of the 2021 season." That is a "long time for people to find something else to occupy their time." And they "will find something." MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark and Manfred "should not be foolish enough to assume that people will wait 17 months and come back out of blind loyalty" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/2).

FANS CAUGHT IN A PICKLE: In St. Louis, Cory Gunkel writes owners "will always have the public perception advantage in these types of negotiations, despite MLB players' historically strong labor power." The public would "rather let the guys worth billions upon billions of dollars use the guys worth substantially less as an easy scapegoat so that we can just bring baseball back already" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 6/2). In Houston, Brian Smith writes this is the "perfect time" for MLB to announce its return, but it is, of course, "blowing its perfect opportunity." The "childlike back-and-forth continues to insult a fan base that is waiting to hear three simple words: Baseball is back" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 6/2).

Some NBA teams that would not be among the 22 clubs participating in the restart of the '19-20 season in Orlando have "long-term" concerns about the “idea of your season ending in March and not starting again or playing another NBA game until late December,” according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. Some teams “rebuilding with young players” are worried about on-court issues, while other franchises "want to stay in the consciousness" of their market. Wojnarowski: "You’ve got to be able to sell tickets, you’ve got to be able to sell sponsorships. I think there are business and basketball concerns about disappearing for this long” (“Get Up,” ESPN, 6/2).

Bennett spoke about the potential symbolic power of all 30 teams gathering there to play as one league
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Bennett spoke about the potential symbolic power of all 30 teams gathering there to play as one league
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Bennett spoke about the potential symbolic power of all 30 teams gathering there to play as one league
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

SMALL BUT MIGHTY: The Thunder would safely be included in the 22-team field, but ESPN.com's Wojnarowski & Lowe noted Thunder Chair Clay Bennett during last Friday's NBA BOG call delivered an "impassioned soliloquy on why the league and owners needed to consider the competitive and financial plights of smaller-market teams that could be left out of the season's summer resumption." Bennett also spoke about the "potential symbolic power of all 30 teams gathering there to play as one united association." As the league moves toward a plan of inviting 22 teams to restart a truncated season in late July, sources said that Bennett spoke of "exhausting ways to accommodate non-playoff teams still wanting to play." Wojnarowski & Lowe noted between now and Thursday's BOG vote on its plan to restart the season, the NBA is "working to complete the details of a 22-team format for Orlando." A three-fourths majority of the league's 30 teams is required for a plan to pass, but sources said that owners "expect unanimous support for whatever form the NBA's final proposal takes" (ESPN.com, 6/1). 

READY FOR WHATEVER: In Boston, Steve Bulpett reports Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge "dodged the issue of his format preference, expressing confidence in commissioner Adam Silver and appreciation that there will be more to the 2019-20 season." Ainge said, “There’s so many different opinions on what should be done. I think Adam has a tough job keeping everybody happy -- well, that’s an impossible job. But I think that I trust Adam will do the right thing, and whatever he decides, we’ll follow along." He added, “There’s not one thing that I’m adamantly dying for from the different plans" (BOSTON HERALD, 6/2). 

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said that all student-athletes returning to campuses "will be required to be tested for COVID-19 and will also undergo antibody testing," according to Brandon Marcello of 247SPORTS.com. The conference had previously not made its plans public as it approaches a "voluntary June 15 date allowing its 12 institutions to return to voluntary workouts for the first time since mid-March." The Pac-12's guidelines on testing are "among the strongest in the country." No other Power 5 conference "has yet announced uniform testing protocols for the novel coronavirus." The various approaches to testing have "concerned many administrators across college athletics." Scott believes that "some uniformity is needed when the season begins, particularly before non-conference games." Discussions among conferences about game-day and game-week protocols "are underway." Scott said that Pac-12 student-athletes also will be "required to undergo routine COVID-19 tests, which are set to be conducted weekly in the ramp up to preseason practices" (247SPORTS.com, 6/1).

The PGA Tour has "expanded its health and safety blueprint via a 34-page Participant Resource Guide," and although the guide includes a policy stating that COVID-19 testing is a "condition of competition, the at-home test players and caddies take before travelling to a tournament is actually 'strongly encouraged,' but not required," according to Rex Hoggard of GOLFCHANNEL.com. If a player or caddie tests positive for the coronavirus while at a tournament, they will "receive a stipend from the Tour to cover medical and quarantine costs, but only if they’ve taken the at-home test before travelling and tested negative." Players also are required to "begin self-screening each day for seven days prior to tournament travel," which for most players began yesterday. The policy also outlines "how testing will be handled when players and caddies arrive in tournament cities." The "current plan is to 'turnaround' the tests in approximately 24 hours and players will have access to the golf course and practice facility before the test is returned." Players will be "issued a wristband or lanyard when a negative test is confirmed that will then allow them access to the locker room and clubhouse" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 6/1). 

The A's were the first MLB team to end the $400 weekly stipends they had been paying to their minor leaguers while the MiLB season was suspended, and while there were "some reasons to believe that others teams would follow," none have so far, according to John Hickey of SI.com. The A's are "alone in having made a decision that is both unpopular and a bit of a public relations nightmare" (SI.com, 5/30). In S.F., Scott Ostler wrote the fraternity of MLB team owners "had a good week, in terms of saving money." The owners, who "never open their books to the world, are trying to vilify MLB players in the battle over how to share baseball's pandemic-related losses." Ostler: "One thing to keep in mind: Team owners tend to have much longer baseball careers than players do" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/31).

STEPPING UP: In K.C., Lynn Worthy wrote Royals ownership and management have "taken steps to avoid layoffs and furloughs" amid MLB's "uncertain future." The club has "opted to institute tiered pay cuts at the upper levels of executive pay," including Royals Senior VP/Baseball Operations & GM Dayton Moore, to "avoid cutting employees." The Royals' baseball operations department includes 218 employees from the executive level all the way down to scouts, coaches, trainers and minor-league player development staff (K.C. STAR, 5/30). In Boston, Peter Abraham noted clubs are "slashing costs by furloughing employees, cutting the salaries of others." When MLB returns to "whatever the new normal will be, scouts and coaches will remember which teams supported their employees and which did not" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/31).

AROUND THE LEAGUE: A source confirmed that the Twins have "pledged to continue $400 weekly stipends and to provide full benefits to all of their minor leaguers through Aug. 31" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/30)....The Yankees as of Friday "continued to pay minor league players $400 per week and hadn't released any." However, both situations are "subject to change" (N.Y. POST, 5/30)....Sources said that the Pirates "will pay their minor league players at least through the end of June" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/31)....The Indians "will continue to pay their minor-league players through June" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 5/30).

Phillies Managing Partner John Middleton projected a "loss of 'substantially more than $100 million'" this year and announced "salary cuts, effective immediately, for anyone on the business or baseball side of the organization who was due to make at least $90,000 this year," according to Scott Lauber of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. Middleton in a letter to employees yesterday wrote the salary reduction plan "does not come close to eliminating our 2020 losses." Lauber notes the percentage of the cuts "will be determined by salary level." While the highest-paid employees "will receive the most substantial reductions," employees who make less than $90,000 "won't have their salaries reduced." Middleton also informed employees that he will "forgo his salary for the remainder of the year." Though other teams have furloughed employees, the Phillies are "sticking to a May 8 decision to protect jobs for full-time staff through at least October," and those employees also will "continue to receive all benefits, including health insurance, pension, and 401(k)." Middleton wrote that he is "still 'hopeful' that the Phillies will play this season" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/2).

AHL officials have been focusing on projecting various minor-league scenarios for the '20-21 season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
AHL officials have been focusing on projecting various minor-league scenarios for the '20-21 season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
AHL officials have been focusing on projecting various minor-league scenarios for the '20-21 season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Incoming AHL Commissioner Scott Howson in recent days has been “trying to figure out what happens next” with the 31 independently owned and operated teams in the league following the cancellation of the ’19-20 season, and even he “can’t be sure,” according to Michael Arace of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. Howson officially takes over for the retiring David Andrews on July 1, but after leaving the Oilers' front office several weeks ago, his “entire focus has been working minor-league scenarios for the 2020-21 season.” He said, “We’re building a schedule with models to start in October, November, December or January. What if we’re looking at operating in arenas at 50% capacity? Twenty-five percent? Zero percent? It could be different in different places. Are teams still interested in playing under such conditions? Which ones?” Arace noted there could be scenarios in which some teams “want to play” while others do not. Arace: “What if, say, 11 teams want to start earlier than the rest of the league -- or just want the practice and support facilities up and running for their minor leaguers?” Howson: “There are lots of possibilities, and we just have to be able to react. We’ll help in any way we can. I really believe we’re going to play next (season), in some form” (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 6/1).

The NCAA has cleared D-I athletic programs to resume workouts and rolled out guidelines for schools to follow as they allow athletes to return to campus. At UNC Charlotte, located in a city in which cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in recent weeks, that return will begin with voluntary workouts, likely in the middle of the month. On the latest episode of “SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead,” our Bill King discussed the complexities of that resumption -- and the vast and continued impact of the pandemic on college sports -- with Charlotte AD Mike Hill.

On the difference between a return to work for professional athletes and a return to school for students:
Hill: They are under our care, and we’re going to take extraordinary measures to try to ensure them the safest environment that we can when they return. One of the most important parts, we felt, of developing our plans was to actually vet it with some student-athletes. We did not want to make any decisions in a vacuum and make any assumptions. We wanted to have some feedback from our student-athletes.

On whether games can reasonably be played without other students on campus:
Hill: From the beginning of this crisis when we contemplated this question the consensus with us and our staff was that if the students aren’t on campus, then that includes student-athletes. How can you compete and how can you practice when you don’t have students on campus? Generally speaking, I still and we still feel that way. The reality is we may have protocols in place for our athletes, coaches and staff that give them a better opportunity to continue what they’re doing than a campus of 30,000 students. You’re not going to be able to enforce the protocols you can with 400 student athletes that you can with 30,000 students. If a campus is shut down and students aren’t able to live on campus, aren’t able to go to class in person, it makes it much more difficult to be able to justify having student-athletes still participating. I will tell you from conversations that we’ve had with many of them, they feel very strongly that they want to be able to practice and compete regardless of the status of campus. That’s not going to be a decision that we would put necessarily just in the hands of our student-athletes.

On Charlotte's financial outlook:
Hill: We had a rainy-day fund, and this qualifies as a monsoon. It really is. We’re in a position now where we do not have to cut sports. It’s the absolute last thing that we would ever consider or want to do. No one wants to do it, and my heart goes out to my colleagues who had to go through it. It’s an awful thing, and there are institutions that are faced, right now today, without a choice because they don’t have a safety net that would allow them to move forward. It’s also a matter of how many sports you sponsor. We have 18 sports here at Charlotte, whereas other institutions that have cut have more than 18 sports, so they’re trying to correct their financial shift. That’s part of why they may be in that position. We’re very fortunate here that we are in a financially strong position, and we are going to continue to operate in that fashion and have great optimism that we are going to be able to move forward with the 18 sports that we have.