Leading disease and epidemiological expert Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before the Senate today, offering his characteristic brand of transparency and caution. Fauci is hopeful that a successful vaccine for COVID-19 can be identified by the end of this year, but there is still absolutely no guarantee of that. Moreover, although the infection rate is coming down, which is good, there is still serious risk presented by states or localities that open up too much too fast, before there is any kind of real containment and the ability to test and trace.
A few items to touch on this afternoon in the intersection of sports and the pandemic.
NBA Player Planning
As the NBA puts together a working group with the players to discuss a path back to basketball, a weird thing happened today:
Sources: Some teams received the question as part of a group text that included the entire roster. One rep asked a team's players: "Do you want to try and play this season, yes or no?" Another rep worded to a different group: "Do you want the season to start again?" https://t.co/p9XgbVKXOa— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 12, 2020
Sooooo … some players association reps decided entirely on their own to start polling players about whether they wanted to return? In some informal texts? And with the union saying, nope, not us? That doesn’t seem good. I mean, I guess the alternative is that Woj just got it wrong, but, well, that’s unlikely.
NFL Training Camps
Given a number of locations may not permit 150+ people gatherings any time soon, it makes sense that some NFL franchises would be looking for alternate training locations for the summer:
From Breer’s column:
Per sources, a number of teams are already deep into exploring out-of-state training camp sites, in anticipation that their states’ restrictions will make staging camp at home in late July and early August impossible. Simple reality dictates that the 10 teams in the Northeast corridor and on the West Coast need to get ahead of this now. In Seattle, the best-case scenario, based on the plans laid out by the state, is that gatherings of over 50 people are allowed eight weeks from now. In Massachusetts, the mayor of Boston just called off all festivals and parades through Labor Day. New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and California, likewise, are a ways off from loosening the reins to the degree needed to hold an NFL camp. Counting 90 players, the coaching staff, scouts, doctors, trainers, strength staff, cafeteria staff, etc., if you cut away everything else, you may be able to run a camp with 150 people onsite. And the fact is, that’s a number that’s a still a ways off from being allowable in some corners of the country.
NHL Meeting Movement
No idea why the NHL moved up its weekly meeting to today. Maybe it was just a logistical thing, but maybe it was something more:
Having said all that, there is certainly a focus right now between NHL/NHLPA to iron out all these issues. That's why they keep meeting. If all goes well, perhaps agreement by the end of the month on end-of-season format, rules, protocols, etc… if all goes well…— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) May 12, 2020
As with the NBA, the NHL has a whole lot of time to work with to come back, finish its season, and then possibly punt the start of next season until deep into the winter.
Illinois Governor Weighs In
Illinois’s governor J.B. Pritzker spoke on the topic of baseball today, and completely whiffed on (1) framing the discussion in the appropriate way, and (2) actually helping baseball return in a fair, safe way:
Pritzker on MLB: “I realize that the players have the right to haggle over their salaries, but we do live in a moment where the people of Illinois and the people of the United States deserve to get their pastime back — to watch, anyway, on television. If they’re able to come …— Kelly Bauer (@BauerJournalism) May 12, 2020
"watch them play baseball, to root for our favorite teams. We need that back. We need that normalcy. I must say I'm disappointed in many ways that players are holding out for these very, very high salaries and payments during a time when I think everybody is sacrificing."— Kelly Bauer (@BauerJournalism) May 12, 2020
The players are not “holding out” on anything. They are in a negotiating process, as are the owners. It just began. Using your mic to blame the players – before anything has even happened, and also without even a tiny ounce of fair consideration for the risk the players would be taking – is just mind boggling to me.
Pritzker, by the way, has already suggested a “high likelihood” that baseball could be played in the state this summer.
Given that the return of sports will necessarily require multiple municipalities and regional governments to be on board (unless you’re paying in a bubble situation), you are reminded that decisions like this may impact sports regardless of the plans they formulate:
Breaking: Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home orders will “with all certainty” be extended for the next three months, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer acknowledged during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday https://t.co/jswRcZ5FkS— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) May 12, 2020
To be sure, nothing is settled there and it’s also not certain that outdoor sports without fans might not be permitted even where other restrictions are in place. But it isn’t hard to imagine that there will be places – Los Angeles, for this example, but others as well – where baseball cannot be played in July. Thus, teams would have to consider playing their season, or part of their season, at Spring Training sites.