As the sports world remains shut down — with a few exceptions — by the coronavirus pandemic, some leagues are trying their hardest to figure out a way to salvage their seasons.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s top public health expert, said in an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday that some sports might have to skip the rest of their seasons if the conditions remain dangerous:
“Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything,” he said. “If you can’t guarantee safety, then unfortunately you’re going to have to bite the bullet and say, ‘We may have to go without this sport for this season.’ ”
Fauci reportedly said that the key factor in whether or not sports leagues can return to action is how quickly the U.S. can gain broad access to tests with quick results.
Until the day comes that there are enough tests for leagues to use them without taking them out of the hands of those who need them for purposes more important than sporting events, it seems unlikely any major leagues’ plans to hold a season will get off the ground.
Per the Times, Fauci said any return to action would have to happen gradually, with authorities prepared to step in if the number of coronavirus cases begin to grow again:
“I would love to be able to have all sports back,” Dr. Fauci said. “But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet.”
Among the top leagues, the NBA and NHL have both paused seasons that were already in progress, while MLB has indefinitely postponed the beginning of a 2020 season initially scheduled to begin in late March. The NFL, having wrapped up its season in February, has until early September before games are scheduled to begin, but will need to make a decision on postponing its season long before that.
Major League Baseball has the most to lose
MLB — between its gate revenues from 81 home games per team and position in the sports calendar — seems to have the most to lose if widespread testing doesn’t arrive in the next few months. The league has already floated a number of possible ways to hold a season in isolation, and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said he is willing to get creative to hold baseball games this year.
Fauci echoed Manfred on the importance of creativity and reiterated his past suggestion that leagues could theoretically play out their season as long as games are held in empty stadiums with players isolated in hotel rooms and constantly tested.
However, he conceded that even with those precautions, such an idea might not work;
“You’ve got to be really creative. That’s going to be more difficult and more problematic. But you know, there have been some suggestions that if you want to have a situation where players are going to have to come into contact, like basketball, there are certain things you can do.
“It may not work. I’m not saying this is the way to go, but you want to at least consider having players, if they’re going to play, play in front of a TV camera without people in the audience. And then test all the players and make sure they’re negative and keep them in a place where they don’t have contact with anybody on the outside who you don’t know whether they’re positive or negative.
“That’s going to be logistically difficult, but there’s at least the possibility of doing that. In other words, we said that for baseball, get the players in Major League Baseball, get a couple of cities and a couple of hotels, get them tested and keep them segregated. I know it’s going to be difficult for them not to be out in society, but that may be the price you pay if you want to play ball.”
Several players have voiced concern over such a prospect, with the understandable sticking point that they don’t want to go months without seeing their families. If a bubble league isn’t feasible or the players don’t go for it, Fauci’s suggestion of a canceled season could come to pass.
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