US sports reopening plans run up against spike in virus cases

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Ever so slowly, sports is returning to a changed world.

Daniel Berger won the Charles Schwab Challenge last weekend in the PGA Tour’s first event since March. In a sign of the pent-up demand, the event was the most bet-on golf tournament ever at DraftKings Sportsbook, according to a company spokesman. England’s Premier League resumed with a 0-0 tie between Aston Villa and Sheffield United that saw players take a knee after the opening whistle in support of Black Lives Matter. It was the first top-flight league action in June in 73 years.

American horse racing’s Triple Crown kicks off where it traditionally ends, at Belmont on Saturday — some wise guys are even calling it the Crown Triple. And the U.S. Open tennis tournament got approval from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to be played at its usual home in Queens, albeit without fans. Serena Williams says she plans to compete, while other top men’s and women’s stars remain uncommitted.

It’s unclear, however, if and when the richest U.S. sporting events will resume. Like all of U.S. society, sports leaders are weighing the hard choices between reopening and helping stem the spread of the coronavirus — with President Donald Trump and some of his advisers offering conflicting advice. The latest figures show cases jumped 1.4% Friday, much faster than the average daily increase over the past week.

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett, asked on Friday about a spike of cases in Florida, said teams may have to be flexible about choosing venue to avoid risks.

“I’ve been on phone calls with the commissioners and the president,” Hassett told reporters in Washington. “And I think that everybody believes that it’s very important for even for national morale to safely get the sports leagues going again.”

Around the same time, Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease specialist, raised concerns about large gatherings.

“The best way to protect yourself and to prevent acquisition of and spread of infection is to avoid crowds,” Fauci told CBS News Radio. “If in fact, for one reason or other, you feel compelled to do that, which we don’t recommend, then wear a mask at all times.”

Here’s where the three major U.S. sports stand on their road to return.


Fauci set off a firestorm of speculation Thursday when he told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that “it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall.”

NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills responded with a statement saying the league is taking necessary precautions and measures in preparation for a 2020 season.

“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisers, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches and other essential personnel,” Sills said. “Make no mistake, this is no easy task.”

Fauci’s comments came after news that several players from the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans have tested positive for Covid-19, including star running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Trump entered the conversation on Friday with a tweet dismissing Fauci’s dire outlook, adding that he won’t be watching the NFL if players resume protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem.

At the college level, the NCAA announced Wednesday a six-week practice plan for teams to begin preseason camps in July, even amid reports of players testing positive at schools like Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State.


The National Basketball Association released a more than 100-page health and safety protocol document on Tuesday in its quest to restart its season at Disney World in July. The document details testing procedures and scenarios about what happens if a player tests positive or declines to participate.

CNBC reported Wednesday that players will have the option to wear a smart ring device that can predict Covid-19 symptoms as much as three days in advance. The ring is reportedly made by Oura and includes a social distancing alarm among its features.

Players have raised concerns about how the league will use all the health data it collects.

“It will entail enormous sacrifice for everyone involved,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in an ESPN interview on Monday.


And then there’s Major League Baseball. The league and its players union have still not agreed to terms for starting its season. Owners and players remain at an impasse over the number of games to be played and compensation.

Commissioner Rob Manfred flew to Arizona this week to present a proposal to Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark for a 60-game season with full-prorated pay that would begin in late July.

The players’ association countered with a 70-game offer that includes expanded playoffs in 2020 and 2021. That offer was “immediately rejected by MLB,” ESPN reported. The difference in the number of games equates to roughly $250 million in pay due to the players, according to The Wall Street Journal.


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