The prospects for the nation’s professional sports leagues to resume operations were boosted Monday when the governors of California, New York and Texas announced their support of pro sports returning in their states.
“New York State is ready and willing to partner with major sports teams that are interested in playing games safely, without fans,” New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote on Twitter. “If our professional sports teams can make it work (& be safe) on their end, we’re supportive.”
The announcements from the states, which are home to more than two dozen franchises across the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, do not provide any certainty as to when or how leagues and teams will resume operations, which have been shuttered amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The leagues have been making tentative plans to return. Major League Baseball has made a return-to-play proposal to its players’ union with an eye toward a possible resumption of training next month and a season beginning in early July, perhaps with teams playing in their home cities and stadiums but being grouped geographically for scheduling purposes to limit travel. The NBA has been exploring completing its season, perhaps by playing at a single site in Orlando or Las Vegas, and the NHL has also been mulling different scenarios to resume play.
The NFL has the luxury of time, with its season not scheduled to begin until September. The league released a schedule for a full 2020 season and has said it hopes to play a complete and on-time season, with teams in their home cities and stadiums, but will adjust if needed. The NFL has been contemplating contingency plans that include a delayed or shortened season, games in empty or partially filled stadiums, and games being relocated or rescheduled, according to people familiar with the league’s planning.
All sports have been dealing with issues such as access to testing, procedures for sanitizing facilities and protocols to be followed if a player, coach or team staffer tests positive. Leagues and owners also must work through economic considerations with unions and players, based on a sharp decline in revenue. Some players have expressed reservations about returning to play, citing health concerns.
President Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he wants to see sports return and has said that he would be in ongoing contact with the leagues’ commissioners about his plans to reopen the country. The leagues’ leaders also have been in regular consultation with governors and local officials as they attempt to figure out how to deal with restrictions and public health directives that vary from state to state and, in some cases, from county to county.
The situation in California has seemed potentially problematic for the leagues, especially after last week’s news that Los Angeles County might extend its safer-at-home order for three months even while easing some restrictions. But Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that he can foresee pro sports returning early next month, albeit with restrictions.
“Sporting events, pro sports in that first week or so of June without spectators and modifications and very prescriptive conditions also could begin to move forward,” Newsom said at a news conference. “And a number of other sectors of our economy will open up, again, if we hold these trend lines in the next number of weeks.”
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced that professional sports can resume May 31 without spectators.
The pronouncements by Cuomo, Newsom and Abbott don’t resolve all the leagues’ return-to-play issues but nevertheless bolster hopes that sports can return on a more widespread basis in the coming weeks and months.
The leagues still must plan for potentially shifting conditions, with health experts having warned of a possible second wave of the virus in the fall and cautioning about the prospect of restrictions needing to be tightened if states reopen businesses too soon. But sports such as golf, NASCAR and the UFC have begun to stage events, and now MLB, the NBA, NHL and NFL could eventually follow.
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