As I’ve hammered here going back over a month now, the things to be tracking in the fight against COVID-19 are the peak cases and the widespread availability of testing. I always paired those things together because it was the initial hope (plan, even?) to have mass testing much more widely available by the time peak cases appeared to trend downward, thus allowing a transition period into testing and tracing and isolating outbreaks.
In reality, it appears we have started to see the downward trend post-peak-cases, but testing – as we discussed in the last update – had plateaued around 150,000 daily, when at least a literal ten times that amount would be necessary to really think about testing, tracing, and opening parts of the economy. To that end, I was following federal legislation to fund more testing (should be finalized today), and I’ve also been following the national testing data at covidtracking.com. Curiously, there was a HUGE spike in reported tests yesterday (over 300,000), about which I was momentarily excited, but it appears to have simply been a whole bunch of tests in California, conducted recently but only reported in one big lump yesterday.
Hopefully next week we see continued ramping up of testing, however, because sitting at a plateau for the last two weeks is almost unthinkably inexcusable.
In the meantime, the latest from the intersection of sports and this virus …
NHL Planning to Use Hubs to Resume Its Season?
Reports from the NHL, which shut down in March when the other sports did. The league is aiming to finish its regular season, and looks to be focused on a “hub” plan:
Latest push is for NHL to return to 2-4 of its arenas in areas where the COVID-19 outbreak has been managed and restrictions would allow it. Very much targeting completion of the regular season. No timetable. NHLPA needs to sign off on any of it.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) April 22, 2020
JUST IN: NHL looking at restarting season in July.
Games would be played at 4 or 5 neutral sites with limited or no fans, according to Florida Panthers president Matt Caldwell.
On the conference call, he said this plan is not finalized.
— Andy Slater (@AndySlater) April 22, 2020
The NHL’s regular season typically kicks off at the start of October, so, with only about a dozen games left on each team’s 2019-2020 season schedule, there would be plenty of time to finish the regular season. But could you fit in a typical two-month-long Stanley Cup playoffs after that? With enough of a buffer to have a normal ramp up to the next season? I don’t see the math working on that one, so you’d be talking about making modifications to the postseason and/or to the start of next season.
I mention that because other sports – whether resuming, like the NBA, or simply starting like MLB or the NFL – will have to consider how whatever they do this year impacts next season.
Is this actually happening, though? Will the NHL be the first major league to announce a return?
Commissioner Gary Bettman wasn’t quite that forthcoming in an interview last night on the subject. Although he did confirm that a four-site plan is being discussed, “Anything we’re considering doing starts with health and well-being, whether it’s the players or other personnel or fans or the community at large. Everybody is going through a tough time. We’re hopeful that by doing the right things in the short term that we’re able to come back and hopefully complete this season on some basis that is fair and has integrity.”
If this becomes THE plan for the NHL, you’d see teams more or less located at a site, with three games per day going at each site. That’d be 12 games per day, with 24 teams going per day. We’ve seen MLB reportedly discussing this kind of “hub” plan, too, which would have the benefit of being at domed/roofed stadiums where weather would not be a problem, and you could likewise get off three (or more) games per day.
If and when the NHL actually announces a plan – if they are indeed the first – you might see more traction for the NBA and MLB to consider following suit.
Al Yellon of BCB received a message from a Chicago Dogs season ticket holder, explaining that the American Association independent league is now aiming to begin its season in early July.
That is extremely notable, because an independent league would not be financially justified in playing without fans in attendance. Indeed, the messages Yellon was forwarded explicitly contemplate fans’ tickets being used. But is it really going to be possible for crowds of 2,000+ people to be at mass gathering activities in early July in Illinois?
Let’s imagine that the state follows the phasing guidelines laid out recently by the federal government. In Phase One – which comes *AFTER* at least two weeks of a downward trajectory in COVID-19 cases *AND* robust testing and un-stressed medical facilities are in place – large sporting venues are permitted to open. They are subject, however, to “strict physical distancing protocols” … a term that is not defined. My sense means that it is something more than just telling folks they have to stay six feet apart. It probably means something even more than that, plus masks, plus certain parts of the park are closed, etc.
In Phase Two, which comes after you are in Phase One for some unspecified period of time without a rebound in cases, the distancing requirement at sports facilities goes down to “moderate physical distancing protocols,” again undefined. But again, it’s hard to imagine that term means people can be sitting right next to each other in ballparks. At a minimum, you’d have to have checkerboard-type seating, which dramatically reduces capacity.
In Phase Three, the physical distancing protocols drop down to “limited,” which again, whatever that means. Maybe that’s when you could have more people in closer proximity so long as they were wearing masks? I have no idea.
The main point here is that, yes, I suppose I can look at a calendar and come together with periods of time that make SOME attendance at indy ball games possible by July. But financially reasonable attendance? That’s harder to see.
Without the games, however, and without some outside financial support, I worry that independent teams may not survive the year.
The Other Football
Across the pond, it seems soccer is approaching a return to finish out its seasons. The top league in Germany – the gloriously-named Bundesliga – is aiming to return on May 9. The country has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world for COVID-19, something they attribute to massive testing, and it may permit them to bring back a 36-team pro sports league like this.
That said, it’s not a done deal, as the government – which has banned mass gatherings into October – still has to give the fan-free games an OK. Moreover, enough of a testing supply has to be sourced to constantly be testing players and required personnel.
Golf and Things Like It
If you’re super into golf or just dying for sports, here you go:
The Match will take place sometime next month, with the particulars to be announced at a later date.