COVID-19 Sports Update: Another State Opening Up, Fans at Football Games, Sticky Balls, and More

National testing levels consistently reached 100,000 daily tests about March 28. It wasn’t until nearly a month later that the level reached 200,000. But barely two weeks after that, the level was 300,000. Now, just one week after that, we’ve hit 400,000. That’s the kind of exponential growth we have *wanted* to see in this pandemic. Hopefully 500,000 is within sight by next week, which is the minimum level I’ve seen out there associated with a real and capable testing and tracing program (many states are there already, but other states are not even close).

One other general thought here at the top, as it relates to life as we attempt to resume it:

Local news is going to be critical when it comes to informing about regional outbreaks, which, in turn, is critical for containing those outbreaks. Moreover, something highly-visible like sports is going to be critical when it comes to modeling distancing/hygiene/masking/etc. behavior in the weeks and months ahead when people start to feel like things are “normal,” and maybe they don’t have to keep doing all that stuff. If they see Kris Bryant and Zach LaVine and Khalil Mack still being visibly cautious the rest of this year, then that is going to help.

Add Ohio to the Opening States

Although the state of Ohio is home to six major professional sports teams, the reality is that Ohio State football is the bellwether for all things sports within the state. So, I can confidently say that when I see this from the university’s athletic director, I know that major sports will also be permitted to train in the state by the same date:

That means, at the latest, the Reds, Indians, Cavaliers, Browns, Bengals, and Blue Jackets would be able to train at team facilities starting on June 8. That date is particularly noteworthy for the teams/leagues that are aiming to ramp up right around that date (i.e., basketball gearing up for a resumption of the season, baseball starting Spring Training II).

Planning for Fans at Football Games?

More from Ohio State – which serves not only as a bellwether for sports in the state, but also for all college athletics – where the AD is growing more comfortable on the idea of games without fans, but where the school is already working on how they could have fans in at about one-fifth capacity:

We’ve not heard about this kind of planning and modeling yet, though the Miami Dolphins did start to discuss possible plans a few weeks ago. It is highly likely that if football is to have any fans at all this fall, it’s going to come at significantly reduced capacity. The science increasingly indicates that it’s much harder to spread the virus outdoors, but it is still considered very risky to have so many people together in a singular location. Would reduced capacity and various distancing protocols be enough to sufficiently reduce that risk? I don’t know that anyone can say for sure at this point. Thus, the planning begins now, just in case.

As for other sports, it’s unlikely we’ll see fans at regular season NBA or NHL games this year, and even reduced capacity for the postseason feels like a stretch, given the indoor facilities. Obviously MLB is holding out hope for reduced capacity late in the regular season and in the postseason, and I guess if football is/has figured out a safe way to do it by then, it could happen. Planning is likely underway, again, just in case. 

More from College Athletics

As alluded to in the Ohio State stuff, the NCAA on the whole is going to permit – where states and schools permit it – athletes to start attending voluntary workouts in 10 days:

Setting aside for the moment the reality these athletes should just be paid already, if you’re going to treat them like the major revenue-generators for your athletic departments, then you have to get them onto campus sooner rather than later for safe, controlled training activities (just like you would any other sport with enormous demands on the body). So, then, you can presume that this decision is dictated primarily by the desire to ensure that as many dollars attached to college football and basketball is not disrupted in the fall. 

Unfortunately, athletic departments and schools have become so dependent on those dollars that the loss of the revenue-driving sports – football in particular – would be devastating to many schools, and many non-revenue sports at those schools (baseball and softball for a couple notable examples). Like I’ve said all along, if you hope most college baseball and softball can continue with only minimal pain over the next couple years, then you should also be hoping there’s a way for college football to be played.

Speaking of which, this is how the University of Texas is going to handle students attending in the fall:

Obviously colleges present a unique challenge in the context of a pandemic, because not only do you have enormous volumes of people in centralized locations, and not only are some of them sometimes not the best listeners when it comes to consistently honoring requests from people in authority, but also because they come and go from various corners of the country. It’s a recipe for one clustered outbreak to become dozens. 

To that end, what Texas proposes is probably wise, and you might even want to see schools going a step further and strongly, strongly encouraging that students avoid frequent trips back home during the fall semester. 

Sticky Balls

As we think about the many health and hygiene protocols that will be deployed among the various sports as they attempt to return, here’s a consideration: will all the disinfectant work negatively impact the actual sport materials? 

Over in the Premier League, where players are finally resuming some training activities, a surprising problem pops up: the disinfectant used on the soccer balls apparently reacts in hot weather in such a way that it makes the balls very sticky, which impacts their movement. You can immediately think about the potential issues/risks there in baseball, football, and basketball if the cleaning materials reacted with the balls in unexpected ways. 

And the puns. My god the puns. (Not like I was going to resist putting it in the headline, though.)

It’s a reminder that there will be unexpected, weird issues all along this process for the various sports, much of which you can’t know until it actually arrives. 

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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