President Donald Trump held a conference call on April 4 with various heads of American professional sports leagues to discuss the continuation of their seasons in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participants of the call included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. The leaders of NASCAR, MLS, WNBA, PGA Tour, WPGA Tour, WWE, UFC, IndyCar and the Breeder’s Cup were also present.
Trump told Goodell that the “virtual” NFL draft scheduled from April 23 to 25, is to be held as planned, and that their regular season should start on time. Despite Trump not providing an exact date as to when fans can return to games, he told the members of the call to expect a return to normalcy by August or September.
“I want fans back in the arenas,” Trump said in a press briefing after the call. “As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports.”
While this is good news for the NFL, considering they play through the fall and winter, it spells trouble for the NBA, NHL and MLB. The first two still have games left in their regular seasons and have yet to begin their respective playoffs, while the MLB’s season — which was scheduled to begin on March 26 — has not even started. With Trump’s prediction, baseball fans would be allowed into stadiums when, under usual conditions, the regular season is wrapping up.
Ideas for the timely continuation of the various sports’ seasons have revolved around games being played in an extremely limited number of venues with no fans in attendance.
The MLB introduced a proposal for the 2020 season on Friday; to separate teams into two leagues, dubbed the “Grapefruit” and “Cactus” Leagues (identical to their pre-season format), and realign the divisions based on their Spring Training locations, which would be played in their empty Spring Training stadiums, mostly located in the South. This would theoretically reduce travel times to games and any possible spread of COVID-19, but poses many challenges, including procedures for quarantining team personnel and adequate TV coverage.
The NHL hatched an idea of playing their remaining regular season and playoff games at neutral arenas without spectators. The idea of neutral arenas was brought up due to many NHL cities having strict lockdown orders, meaning many teams’ players and staff cannot leave their home cities. Some proposed neutral sites include Grand Forks, ND and Manchester, NH.
Commissioner Silver told TNT that he cannot explore options for the continuation of the NBA season until May.
“Essentially what I’ve told my folks over the last week is we should just accept that at least for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said.
“It doesn’t mean that…we aren’t looking at many different scenarios for restarting the season, but I think it honestly is just too early, given what’s happened right now, to even be able to project or predict where we will be in a few weeks.”
With the national COVID-19 curve still weeks away from flattening out, Trump’s conference call is a sign that a return of sports may truly be drawing nearer.