Despite Trump’s optimism, lack of US sports could extend into the fall

Ken Belson and Marc Stein, The New York Times

Posted at Apr 07 2020 07:05 PM

A vendor shows his sign with his son outside Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on March 26, which would have been Major League Baseball's opening day with a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the local Reds. David Kohl, USA Today Sports/Reuters

Although President Donald Trump has expressed optimism that sports leagues could resume play “sooner than later,” sports leaders have been planning for a longer postponement of games and events, extending into the fall and possibly later.

After meeting with the commissioners of several major sports leagues Saturday, Trump discussed resuming sports in August, ESPN reported, though Trump later told reporters at the White House, “I can’t tell you a date, but I think it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”

“I want fans back in the arenas,” he said at the White House, adding, “As soon as we can, obviously.’’

Still, a range of sports leaders and public officials have cast doubt on normalcy returning anytime soon, and even fall events face uncertainty over concerns that a renewal of mass gatherings could undermine any gains made in fight against the pandemic by then.

The NFL, which is scheduled to conduct its annual draft from April 23-25 by videoconference, has said it is focused on not altering the regular season, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 10. But some team owners say there is a good chance the international games in London and Mexico City will be moved back to the United States, and one owner raised the possibility that the season could be reduced from 16 games to as few as 10.

An NFL spokesman, Brian McCarthy, said the league’s decisions will be “guided by the latest advice from medical and public health officials, as well as current and future government regulations.”

The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, was more definitive.

“As long as we’re still in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport,” Sills told NFL.com last week. “Because we’re going to have positive cases for a very long time.”

The NBA and NHL, which were deep into their 2019-20 seasons before they were suspended last month, may be unable to finish their seasons because the cities they play in have restrictions on nonessential travel and because of the difficulty of acquiring enough test kits to ensure the safety of the players, team staffs and workers in arenas.

Mike Bass, a spokesman for the NBA, which would have started its postseason on April 18, said, “Any decision on a date to restart the season is likely weeks away and will be made in consultation with public health experts and in line with governmental directives and guidance.”

Major League Soccer, which had started its regular season, and Major League Baseball, which had its spring training interrupted, are looking at truncated schedules. Both leagues have also contemplated playing games in empty stadiums, though it is unclear how risky that might be to players and to employees who produce the games. Officials in both leagues said they prefer to play with fans in the seats.

Either way, sports leagues and tournaments say they will let the advice of medical experts, not the president, guide their decisions on when to resume play.

(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).