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The virtual marathon

We’re still not ready for things to be normal.

The 2021 Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon will be virtual due to ongoing public health concerns with COVID-19.

The 2021 Virtual Houston Marathon Running Events will be held over the span of 10 days where runners will have the option to complete the race distance anywhere between Jan. 8-17, according to the Houston Marathon Committee.

Participants who have already registered for the 2021 marathon will be able opt for the virtual race experience, which will include a discounted registration for the Chevron Houston Marathon 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2022; or defer their entry to one of the following two years (2022 or 2023); or donate their entry to the Houston Marathon Committee, which is a 501 c(4) nonprofit organization.

Half marathon registrants and We are Houston 5K runners will receive an email with instructions on how to complete their registration selection, according to a news release.

“At this time, we recognize that there are many unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but the safety and well-being of our runners, volunteers, partners, spectators and local Houston community will always be our top priority,” said Wade Morehead, committee executive director. “While we are unable to celebrate the 2021 event together in the heart of Downtown Houston, we will be cheering for our runners around the world as they participate in a unique virtual race experience, embracing the incredible spirit of our RunHOU community.”

I mean, none of this should be a surprise. The Marathon is an event where everyone is packed together, and even if the spectators and officials and volunteers were all wearing masks, there’s no way that the runners could. Doing it like this, where everyone just picks their own 26-mile course and registers to submit an official time for it, is the only way. This is just a reminder that seeing the calendar turn over into 2021 doesn’t mean anything in terms of the virus or its containment. We’re still in need of an actual federal plan, with actual leadership, to try to contain it, and eventually a vaccine to finally achieve some level of immunity. If we’re lucky, that 2022 50th anniversary marathon will be able to be run like it always has in the past. But as of today, we can’t say for sure that it will.

(You can register for the Marathon here, if that’s your thing.)

And the PAC12 flip flops, too

Everyone’s playing football again.

The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season beginning Nov. 6, the league announced Thursday.

The decision, voted on by the Pac-12’s CEO group on Thursday, represents an official reversal after the conference announced in early August it would postpone all sports until at least Jan. 1, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This has been the result of what we said back in August — that we’d follow the science, follow the data, follow the advice from our medical experts,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said, “and that we know how badly our student-athletes want to compete, as student-athletes for the Pac-12, but that we would only do so when we felt that we could do so safely.”

In a release, the Pac-12 said men’s and women’s basketball can begin Nov. 25 while other winter sports can begin in line with their respective NCAA seasons. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said other fall sports, such as cross country, soccer and volleyball, will continue to plan for a spring season.

[…]

In August, the Pac-12’s CEO group, which includes a president or chancellor from each university, voted unanimously to postpone the season. The explanation for the postponement included the need for daily rapid turnaround tests for COVID-19. At the time, there wasn’t a belief that would be possible during the fall.

However, that changed less than a month later when the conference reached an agreement with a company to provide daily tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are expected to be operational in early October.

Along with daily antigen testing, athletes will take at least one polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test per week.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports remains our guiding light and number one priority,” Pac-12 CEO group chair and Oregon president Michael Schill said in a statement. “Our CEO Group has taken a measured and thoughtful approach to today’s decision, including extensive consultation with stakeholders on the evolving information and data related to health and safety.”

The conference faced additional pressure after the ACC, Big 12 and SEC remained set on playing in the fall. There was a common belief in the Pac-12, sources said, that after the Big Ten postponed its season, the other Power 5 conferences would eventually do the same. When that didn’t happen and the Big Ten faced significant pressure to change course, and eventually did, the Pac-12 was left to find a way not to be the only Power 5 conference idle in the fall.

After the Big Ten’s announcement last week, Scott quickly pointed to governmental restrictions in California and Oregon that prevented the six Pac-12 schools in those states from practicing. By the end of the day, governors from both states publicly indicated that nothing at the state level would prevent the Pac-12 season from taking place.

See here for the background, and here for the PAC 12’s statement. No one will be allowed at on campus games until at least January. It does indeed seem inevitable that once the Big Ten came back, the PAC 12 would follow. Now even some non-Power Five conferences are also returning, as the Mountain West Conference made a similar announcement. Just because they’re back doesn’t mean they’ll end up playing all the games they intend to play – just ask the University of Houston, which has had four games against four different opponents get cancelled for COVID reasons. And if you think all this is weird and perhaps ill-advised, just wait till basketball starts.

UPDATE: And the MAC is back, too, meaning that all FBS conferences will be playing some form of a football schedule this fall.

Big 10 flip flops on football

It’s a powerful force.

The Big Ten announced Tuesday that its Council of Presidents and Chancellors has voted to allow the league to play football in fall 2020. The Big Ten will open its season on the weekend of Oct. 24 with teams playing eight regular-season games over eight weeks along with a Big Ten Championship Game and six additional consolation games.

The Big Ten Championship Game is scheduled for Dec. 19, making the Big Ten eligible or the College Football Playoff as the final CFP Rankings announcement of the season is set or Dec. 20.

The Big Ten will also play league consolation games with teams placing second- through seventh-place in their divisions matching up on Dec. 19. There may be adjustments to those games, however, as Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said the Big Ten will try to avoid repeat matchups if teams had already played in the regular season.

Tickets will not be sold and fans will not be allowed to attend games this season, though exceptions may be made for families of athletes, coaches and staff.

The conference will now feature daily, rapid COVID-19 testing as a focal point of its return to play plan. Testing for athletes and coaches will begin on Sept. 30. The earliest an athlete could return to game competition is 21 days following a positive diagnosis. Additionally, the Big Ten unveiled new information on its plans for myocarditis screening in the wake of any positive tests. Both of those were major concerns that were among the main reasons for the Big Ten’s original decision to cancel fall football on Aug. 11.

See here for the background, and here for the Big Ten’s statement on testing and other protocols. That just leaves the PAC 12 among the Power 5 conferences not playing football this fall, though many other conferences have opted out. Maybe this will work, and maybe the carping from people who want to know why the schools aren’t providing tests for all of their students won’t be a drag, but it’s fair to say there will be issues.

Despite the delayed start, there remain numerous roadblocks for an actual return to football. Wisconsin football and hockey, for example, recently paused for two weeks after a rash of COVID-19 positives. Meanwhile, games across the country continue to be postponed left and right. Virginia-Virginia Tech, Houston-Memphis, Army-BYU and SMU-TCU are just some of the 13 games that have already been postponed; some games may be canceled if new dates are not easily achieved.

Like I said, maybe this will work. And maybe it will be a huge mess. This Slate piece argues that if you were going to do college football this fall, you’d want to do it the way the Big 10 is proposing to do it, so we’ll see. Good luck and let’s hope nobody’s health is permanently damaged as a result.

Everybody is invited!

I missed this last week.

ACC men’s basketball coaches are proposing an expanded 2021 NCAA tournament that would include every Division I team.

Several ACC coaches would prefer to avoid nonconference games in the 2020-21 season due to complications from the coronavirus pandemic, with sources telling ESPN that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is spearheading the push for an all-inclusive NCAA tournament.

ACC coaches voted Wednesday to propose the expanded 2021 NCAA tournament, sources confirmed to ESPN. The vote was first reported by Stadium.

Krzyzewski released a statement later Wednesday that said, in part, there “is no better way” to celebrate the game “than involving every team in the most prestigious basketball tournament on the planet.”

He said the primary factors the coaches considered were the health and safety of players, the incentive that there will be games leading to the tournament, and that they need to be unified as a sport, with all 357 Division I teams.

“This is not a regular season,” Krzyzewski said. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative.”

Oh, my God, this would have been awesome. I mean, dumb and unworkable from a pandemic perspective, but come on, let us dream for a minute. We all love the scrappy underdogs taking out established blue bloods in the first round, and a first round that included 256 teams would have had all kinds of possibilities for that happening. Just getting to see a slew of new mascots and goofy uniform color schemes and 15-second promos for each school we’d never heard of would have made the whole thing worthwhile. So of course the cooler heads at the NCAA killed the idea without even giving it a chance to breathe.

The ACC’s proposal for an all-inclusive NCAA men’s basketball tournament that would feature every Division I team does not currently have the backing of the event’s leadership.

On Thursday, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the organization is not considering a “contingency plan” to expand the tournament, a day after ACC men’s basketball coaches, in a movement led by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, proposed a field that would include every Division I team in the 2021 NCAA tournament after a Wednesday vote.

“Every college basketball team’s goal is to play in the NCAA tournament because everyone loves March Madness,” Gavitt said in a statement. “Certainly we missed it this year and can’t wait for 2021. While all who care about the game are entitled to their opinion, and we’ll always listen respectfully, at this time we are not working on any contingency plan that involves expanding the tournament field.”

Spoilsports. OK, OK, I admit, there were logistical issues, but surely they could have been overcome.

Consider:

  • There are 346 Division I schools eligible for NCAA tourney play this coming season. That is 324 more teams than the NBA sent to its Orlando bubble. Conservatively estimating each school’s travel party at 25, we’re going to repeatedly test and quarantine more than 8,000 people? Just so half of them can lose and go home after 40 minutes of basketball? I don’t think so.
  • The bracket itself, while amusing, would tax even the best of us. The basic math dictates that 166 teams receive opening round byes. The remaining 180 would play 90 additional games to create a symmetrical field of 256 teams, followed by a tidy eight-round gauntlet through the Final Four.
  • All told, we’re increasing the number of games — with commensurate travel and risk — from 67 to 345. That’s a fivefold increase and, while epidemiology is not my “ology,” I do know that infectious disease transmission is not arithmetic. We would be looking at way, way, WAY more than five times the amount of exposure.

Yes, yes, I know, the damned pandemic. I know in my heart of hearts that this would never have been possible. But damn, it would have been fun.

No fans (at first) for the Texans

You’ll have to watch the Texans’ home opener on your teevee.

Fans will not be allowed to attend the Texans’ home opener against Baltimore because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Texans play the Ravens on Sept. 20 at NRG Stadium after beginning the season Sept. 10 in a nationally televised game against the defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Texans will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and rely on recommendations from team and NFL medical experts before they decide on fans being able to attend the second home game on Oct. 4 against Minnesota.

They’ll make a decision about Game 2 later.

Team president Jamey Rootes said they will wait before making a decision on the second home game Oct. 4 against Minnesota.

“That’s a tough decision,” Bill O’Brien said Saturday in a Zoom conference call. “I know Cal (McNair) and Jamey came to that decision because it’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our fans and where we are right now with this virus.”

The Texans have sold out every home game in team history. O’Brien talks often about the fans who give them a home-field advantage.

“It’s tough,” he said. “You think back to the Buffalo (playoff) game last year, the crowd was such a big part of that win for us. And many, many other games since I’ve been here that they’re really willed us to win. We won’t see them in September, but (we hope) to see them soon.”

The Texans developed a plan months ago for a limited number of fans to attend games. Based on Friday’s decision, the first time they’ll have a chance to implement that plan will be against the Vikings.

Well, they can always pipe in crowd noise and add cardboard cutout fans, if they want. For those of you who just have to see a game live, there’s always road games, if you can’t wait that long.

When the Texans open the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs, the defending Super Bowl champions plan to have fans in the stands at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs announced Monday that they plan to have a reduced capacity of 22 percent to start the season.

[…]

The Chiefs said they made their plans in consultation with the NFL, medical professionals and local government officials.

The Chiefs said they have implemented enhanced cleaning and sanitation procedures, including social distancing, hand sanitization stations, cashless pay for transactions and mask requirements except when actively eating and drinking. The Chiefs ask fans to bring their own masks upon entering Arrowhead Stadium, but will provide commemorative masks to all fans attending the first three home games.

Who could turn down that opportunity?

The economic effect of losing college football this fall

I have some sympathy, but I also have some skepticism.

Texas’ five major conference football teams – Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Austin — are massive economic drivers for their cities of Waco, Fort Worth, College Station, Lubbock and Austin, respectively, generating a flood of seasonal business for hotels, restaurants and bars in a typical year.

Economists and city leaders said canceling football would be devastating to local businesses that rely on the huge influxes of cash from home games.

“Forgoing even a single game costs the economy millions,” said Ray Perryman, a Waco economist and CEO of The Perryman Group. “Dealing with the health crisis is essential and must be given paramount priority, but the economic costs of restricting or eliminating college sports are very high.”

[…]

Doug Berg, an economics professor at Sam Houston State University, said towns like Lubbock and College Station would feel the impact of lost game day revenue more than larger cities like Austin with its more diversified business base.

Still, UT-Austin reported in 2015 it had a local economic impact of more than $63 million per home game.

A bigger proportion of municipal budgets in smaller towns is derived from sales and hotel occupancy taxes – both of which typically experience significant hikes during football season. For college towns, “it’s like losing Christmas,” Berg said.

The toll of losing football is “larger than we care to fathom,” said Eddie McBride, president of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.

One typical home game at Texas Tech, with an average attendance of about 60,000 people, pours “millions of dollars” back into the city of Lubbock, McBride said.

“We do count a lot on football,” McBride said. “It isn’t just sold seats…it’s going to people’s houses and buying food and drinks from the local grocery store and the beer store, and then going to the bars and the restaurants to watch the game.”

As we now know, the Big 12 will be playing football this fall, though what the situation with fans in the stands will be remains unclear. That’s not great for the Lubbocks and Wacos, but it’s not the worst case scenario, either. I can believe that Game Day is an economic boon in these smaller cities, but I’m way too skeptical of this type of financial forecasting to take the gloom and doom too seriously. The pattern is always big statements up front about what will or may happen, then no followup after the event in question to say what did happen. I’ve just been conditioned by too many of these in the past to take them at face value.

I mean sure, there will be fewer people visiting Lubbock and Waco on these Saturdays, and that will undoubtedly mean fewer hotel rooms rented and less beer consumed. That adds up to something, whatever it may actually be. One might speculate that the savings from fewer people catching COVID-19 as a result of this lessened activity balances this out. Maybe Ray Perryman can work up a spreadsheet on that.

College sports roundup

Southland Conference postpones fall sports.

After much deliberation, the Southland Conference has postponed league competition in all of its fall sports with the intent of playing a football season in the spring of 2021 due to concerns over COVID-19.

The Southland will, however, allow teams to play nonconference games if they choose.

Houston Baptist, for example, plans on playing its three scheduled nonconference football games this fall, including at Texas Tech. HBU’s other nonconference opponents are North Texas and Louisiana Tech.

The Huskies also will participate in nonconference games in volleyball and women’s soccer.

[…]

Sam Houston State will not try to play any sports in the fall, but Stephen F. Austin said it would.

HBU will play three opponents (North Texas, Texas Tech, and Louisiana Tech) who will pay them for the game. That’s one way to mitigate the financial hit for this.

West Coast Conference postpones fall sports.

Keeping in line with many other leagues around the country, the West Coast Conference, which includes BYU, announced Thursday that it has postponed all conference fall competition due to the coronavirus pandemic and is looking at ways to compete in the spring.

The decision was reached by the WCC Presidents’ Council after consulting with the league’s 10 athletic directors and commissioner Gloria Nevarez over the past several weeks.

This move impacts women’s volleyball, soccer, men’s cross-country and women’s cross-country. But it doesn’t affect men’s and women’s basketball, which is scheduled to tip off in November.

The conference “remains fully committed and continues to work closely with campus leadership on plans to ensure a safe environment to conduct the 2020-21 WCC men’s and women’s basketball seasons in the winter,” according to league officials. “The conference intends to explore various models for conducting WCC competition in the fall sports of men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball in the spring of 2021. The WCC strongly supports efforts to encourage the National Collegiate Athletic Association to conduct fall NCAA championships in the spring.”

The WCC includes Gonzaga, so you can understand the desire to play basketball.

Southern Conference postpones fall sports.

VMI will not play Virginia nor any other football team this fall.

The Southern Conference announced Thursday that it is postponing its fall sports season until next spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. SoCon presidents voted on the matter Thursday afternoon.

Although SoCon games are moving to the spring, the conference is permitting its teams to still play nonleague games this fall.

But VMI decided not to exercise that option. So the Keydets will not play their scheduled game at UVa on Sept. 11.

“We made the decision, our CEOs did, regarding fall moving to spring, and we support that and believe it’s in the best interest of our cadet athletes to shift things to the [spring],” VMI athletic director Dave Diles said Thursday in a phone interview. “And therefore [VMI] didn’t feel it was the right thing to have any additional parts separated from that decision.”

VMI would have received $375K to play UVa.

Horizon League postpones fall sports.

The Horizon League has canceled sports this fall.

On Thursday afternoon, the league announced it has postponed all competition for fall sports. Among the schools in the Horizon League are Detroit Mercy and Oakland.

In total, 10 sports have been canceled, including men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf, baseball, softball, men’s tennis and women’s volleyball.

The league said any decision to move fall sports competition to the spring will be made at a later date. Individual schools will implement their own rules involving team workouts, in accordance with NCAA and state guidelines.

The Horizon League had previously voted to delay the start of the fall sports season until October 1.

Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences postpone fall sports.

There won’t be any sports competitions this fall in either the Big Sky Conference or Western Athletic Conference due to health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both leagues made their announcements Thursday and are looking at the possibility of moving fall competition to the spring. It impacts four Utah colleges: Weber State and Southern Utah in the Big Sky, and Utah Valley and Dixie State in the WAC.

The Big Sky had previously announced it would postpone the league’s conference competition in football this fall, and Thursday’s news confirms there won’t be any nonconference play in any sport. The decision also impacts Big Sky competition in sports like men’s and women’s cross-country, soccer and volleyball that compete for their championships in the fall, as well as those in their nonchampionship portion of the season, including men’s and women’s golf, softball, men’s and women’s tennis.

[…]

The Big Sky punted making a decision on when the league’s winter sports — men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s indoor track and field — could start competition.

The WAC’s fall championship sports impacted include men’s and women’s cross-country, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer. The league also said the earliest possible competition date for sports in the nonchampionship portion of their season is Jan. 1, 2021, affecting men’s and women’s golf, baseball, and softball.

The WAC will discuss winter athletics competition at a later date, while saying competition in men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s swimming and diving competition will be postponed through the end of October.

All of these conferences are FCS; the WAC used to be FBS, but dropped football after lots of schools moved to other conferences. Also, FCS school New Mexico State postponed its fall sports, becoming the third independent FCS school to do so, following the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts. They all join the Big 10 and the PAC 12 in sitting it out for now, leaving the fall to the Big 12, SEC, and ACC

I don’t know what other FCS conferences there are out there, but for now at least this is what we’re going to get. I’m still quite skeptical that these three Power 5 conferences, plus the non-P5 FCS schools that are still in, can do this safely, but they’re going to try. And who knows, maybe they can. Sean Pendergast makes the case that the conferences that postponed were the foolish ones.

Regular students are coming back to campus anyway
At many of these schools, particularly in the Big Ten, regular students are actually returning to on campus classes this month. Yes, thousands of kids on campus, left to determine social distances and left for us to trust their masking policies. Football players at those schools will now be spending MORE time near the rest of those students. Also, if the Big Ten schools with student returning to campus are THAT concerned about COVID-19, to where they re canceling football, then why on earth are they bringing students back? It makes no sense.

Players in the SEC, ACC, and Big XII will have better access to testing and medical care
When they ultimately nail down hard and fast protocols, it is widely assumed that the SEC, ACC, and Big XII will obviously have some sort of regular testing for COVID-19. This, along with the access to top notch medical staff and facilities, make the players at those schools the most cared-for college students anywhere when it comes to COVID-19. Between frequent testing, the structure of a football regimen, and great doctors, you could argue the safest students in the country are the football players of the SEC, ACC, and Big XII. I feel for the Big Ten and Pac-12 kids who are now left without testing, and many of them being sent back to their hometowns, where depending on their family’s healthcare coverage, it’s hit or miss as to just how protected they are from the coronavirus.

Athletic departments budgets are about to be plundered, say goodbye to non-revenue sports
It would be naive to ignore the fiscal suicide being committed by the Big Ten and the Pac-12, who stand to lose tens of million of dollars by canceling the 2020 football season, basically out of fear — fear of bad press, fear of future litigation, fear of whatever. It’s why I wanted to establish first that the student-athletes in the conferences PLAYING football are actually safer from COVID-19, so my argument doesn’t appear mercenary. Big Ten schools pocket over $50 million per year from the Big Ten Network ALONE. Athletic departments stand to drown in a sea of red ink approaching nine figures. Non-revenue sports, basically everything that’s not football and basketball, that provide scholarship opportunities for literally thousands of kids, many female and minorities, are going to die under a financial guillotine when this is all said and done.

Playing a spring season is actually MORE dangerous than playing in the fall
Here is perhaps the least logical part of the whole thing — the Big Ten and Pac-12 are reportedly wanting to play in the spring. So this would mean playing a football season, which I’m assuming is a minimum of eight games, starting in, say March. This would run through May. Training camp for the fall season, assuming there’s a COVID vaccine and/or therapeutic medicine, would begin in July. That’s LESS than two months between seasons. Seasons of FOOTBALL. This is beyond malpractice, and far more abusive than any sort of exposure players would have to COVID-19. It seems that everyone wanting to cancel football, stuck in their coronavirus fetal position, conveniently forget that they’ve been watching and enjoying a sport for years that includes the risk of permanent head trauma.

Maybe! I think #3 is a legitimate concern, and #4 is a concern for a different reason, which I’ve seen expressed elsewhere: You’re moving football games from October and November to January and February, which are a lot colder and have more snow. That’s not great for a variety of reasons. Multiple football programs have had COVID outbreaks among their players already, some bigger than others, and I have plenty of doubts that the coaches, ADs, and whoever else is making these decisions has any idea what they’re going to do if a team has a similar outbreak during the season. And Lord help us if they all insist on having fans in attendance. I will readily admit, moving these sports to the spring has its share of risks and downsides. But let’s not underestimate the risk of staying the course.

The Big 12 will play football

That’s their plan, anyway.

The start of the Big 12 Conference’s college football season will move forward as scheduled, conference officials said Wednesday, meaning four major Texas football programs are one step closer to playing this fall.

“Ultimately, our student-athletes have indicated their desire to compete in the sports they love this season and it is up to all of us to deliver a safe, medically sound, and structured academic and athletic environment for accomplishing that outcome,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a statement. The season will kick off Sept. 26, with the conference championship pegged for Dec. 12.

Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas at Austin are Big 12 members. The conference presidents’ decision to allow football during the coronavirus pandemic was made official Wednesday morning, a day after the Big Ten and the Pac-12 announced their seasons would be postponed until the spring semester.

Bowlsby said member schools have committed to enhanced COVID-19 testing, with three tests per week in high contact sports. Non-conference football opponents must also adhere to testing protocols that match conference standards.

Texas A&M University is part of the Southeastern Conference, which has also signaled its intent to allow teams to play this fall.

“We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement Tuesday.

So that’s two Power 5 conferences not playing in the fall, two that say they are, and the ACC. Of course, there are a ton of questions that will have to be addressed before this can be taken seriously, such as “how exactly are you going to keep all those people safe”, “what will be the protocol when someone (or several someones) tests positive”, and “do you really think that allowing fans in the stands is a good idea”. You can have all the bravado you want, but you better have some idea of what you’re doing when something inevitably goes wrong. In the meantime, all I can say is that it’s going to be an interesting autumn. Or possibly spring, if things do change. Reform Austin has more.

Big 10 and PAC 12 scrap football for this fall

Boom.

Big Ten Conference presidents and chancellors voted Tuesday to postpone all fall sports seasons, including football, with the hopes of playing in the spring, it announced Tuesday.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.

“We know how significant the student-athlete experience can be in shaping the future of the talented young women and men who compete in the Big Ten Conference. Although that knowledge made this a painstaking decision, it did not make it difficult. While I know our decision today will be disappointing in many ways for our thousands of student-athletes and their families, I am heartened and inspired by their resilience, their insightful and discerning thoughts, and their participation through our conversations to this point. Everyone associated with the Big Ten Conference and its member institutions is committed to getting everyone back to competition as soon as it is safe to do so.”

[…]

In making its decision, the Big Ten said it relied on the medical advice and counsel of the Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee.

“Our primary responsibility is to make the best possible decisions in the interest of our students, faculty and staff,” Morton Schapiro, the Chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors and Northwestern University president, said in a statement.

The University of Nebraska, after Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost on Monday said his program is prepared “to look at any and all options” in order to play this fall, on Tuesday issued a joint statement saying “we are very disappointed in the decision by the Big Ten.”

“We have been and continue to be ready to play,” the Nebraska joint statement said. “Safety comes first. Based on the conversations with our medical experts, we continue to strongly believe the absolute safest place for our student athletes is within the rigorous safety protocols, testing procedures, and the structure and support provided by Husker Athletics.

“… We hope it may be possible for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete.”

See here for the background. Here’s the official statement from the Big 10. Something I noticed after rereading my draft was that basketball, which obviously starts in the fall but has a sprint championship, was not mentioned in the news stories. It’s not mentioned in the statement either, so at this point there’s no news. Any postponement of basketball will have further effects, but for now that decision has not been made.

A few hours later, the PAC 12 followed suit.

The Pac-12 CEO group voted unanimously Tuesday to postpone fall sports and will look at options to return to competition next year, the conference announced.

“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports has been our number one priority since the start of this current crisis,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott in a statement. “Our student-athletes, fans, staff and all those who love college sports would like to have seen the season played this calendar year as originally planned, and we know how disappointing this is.”

Impacted Pac-12 student athletes will continue to have their scholarships guaranteed. The conference is also encouraging the NCAA to grant students who opt out of playing this academic year an additional year of eligibility.

The league’s medical advisory group had “concerns that many of its current recommendations cannot be achieved consistently across all universities at this point in time. Currently, the availability of frequent, FDA-approved, accurate testing with rapid turn-around time vary at each of the Pac-12 institution locations. In addition, in many locations within the Conference, community test positivity rates and number of cases per 100,000 in the surrounding community exceed levels which infectious disease and public health officials deem safe for group sports.”

The medical advisory group said “it is anticipated that over the next few months, rapid point of care tests will become more available and we will have a greater understanding of potential short- and long-term health effects of COVID-19 to better inform medical decision-making.”

Here’s their statement, which says they will “postpone all sport competitions through the end of the 2020 calendar year”. That also doesn’t mention basketball, but as noted since a bunch of (generally non-conference) games are played in the fall, it would seem to affect that as well. We’ll see what that means.

Looking at the other Power 5 conferences, it seems that the SEC is most likely to try to have a season, while the Big 12 may be the last one to made a decision. Whatever happens from here, this was a first step. There will be tons of fallout and repercussions from this, and we may not see a return to “normal” for some time. And that’s without factoring in the financial consequences. Hold onto your hats. The AP, CBS Sports, Slate, and Daily Kos have more.

UPDATE: An interesting fact from the Chron: “As of Tuesday, 53 of the 130 FBS schools will not play football this fall.” Just a guess here, but that number is going to go up.

So where are we with college football?

Possibly on the brink of postponing the season.

Commissioners of the Power 5 conferences held an emergency meeting on Sunday, as there is growing concern among college athletics officials that the upcoming football season and other fall sports can’t be played because of the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

No major decisions were made on Sunday night, but multiple sources in several Power 5 conferences have told ESPN the commissioners talked about trying to collaborate if their respective presidents do decide to cancel or postpone fall sports.

Several sources have indicated to ESPN that Big Ten presidents, following a meeting on Saturday, are ready to pull the plug on its fall sports season, and they wanted to gauge if commissioners and university presidents and chancellors from the other Power 5 conferences — the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — will fall in line with them.

Sources told ESPN that a vast majority of Big Ten presidents have indicated that they would vote to postpone football season, hopefully to the spring. A Big Ten official confirmed to ESPN that no official vote took place during Saturday’s meeting.

“It doesn’t look good,” one Power 5 athletic director said.

[…]

Several sources have told ESPN over the past 48 hours that the postponement or cancellation of the football season seems inevitable. Many of those sources believed it ultimately will take a Power 5 conference to move things in that direction and that either the Big Ten or Pac-12 would probably be the first league to do it.

“Nobody wanted to be the first to do it,” a Power 5 coach told ESPN, “and now nobody will want to be the last.”

A Power 5 administrator added: “It feels like no one wants to, but it’s reaching the point where someone is going to have to.”

As we know, all of the not-FBS conferences, as well as the MAC, have cancelled or postponed their fall sports. On Monday, the Mountain West Conference joined them. Today, the PAC 12 will have a meeting, and we’ll see what they decide. This could be the week when the plug gets pulled, which would mean spring football if everything is finally better by then.

Or maybe not. The University of Nebraska is considering its options in the event the Big 10 postpones its season. (As of last night, there were conflicting reports about the Big 10’s plans.) There is definitely support from some athletes and politicians for having a season, though as that story notes the reasons each group has for advocating its position are different. One possible outcome is some kind of massive realignment, maybe with a smaller number of schools playing, and/or a bunch of athletes moving to other schools to participate. I’m sure we’ll know more soon. But just remember, in a country where we had the political leadership to get COVID-19 under control, we’d be having a very different conversation right now.

UPDATE: Just noticed that Rice is pushing back the start of its season to September 26, with the intent to reschedule games against UH and Army that were originally planned for before that date. I guess that’s a baby step towards postponing till spring, but as of this writing Conference USA and the AAC were still on for the fall.

FBS versus FCS

I’m referring in the title to the two types of Division I NCAA college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision, which includes the power 5 conferences, and the Football Championship Subdivision, which used to be known as 1-AA and which has always had a playoff to determine its champion. Those of you who are fans of FCS football will have to wait till spring to see any of it.

The NCAA’s second-highest level of football won’t crown a 2020 champion as more schools announced Friday they wouldn’t take the gridiron this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Universities comprising the Missouri Valley Football ConferenceBig Sky Conference and Pioneer Football League all said they won’t play this fall, which effectively pulled the plug on postseason play for the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

As FCS teams and conferences pulled out of fall play in recent weeks, the NCAA announced that FCS playoffs would be cancelled if 50 percent of eligible teams pulled out. When the MVFC, Big Sky and Pioneer all opted out of autumn football, that minimum threshold was breached.

Before Friday, a host of other FCS leagues had called off fall football: the Ivy LeaguePatriot LeagueColonial Athletic AssociationNortheast ConferenceSouthwestern Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The 2019 FCS title was won by North Dakota State University, which edged James Madison University in the final.

Lower levels of NCAA football, Division II and Division III, also had playoffs cancelled this week.

That’s an awful lot of college football that will not be happening this fall. And now some of the FBS action won’t be happening, either.

The Mid-American Conference has long been the home of Tuesday football, seven-overtime epics and the #MACtion hashtag that bonds together the most hardcore college football fans.

The MAC functions on the outer orbit of big-time college football, a key part of the food chain by providing early season buy games, midweek television inventory and early gambling opportunities for those who’ve endured lost weekends.

On Saturday, the MAC took over a new role in the college football universe — the center of attention. The MAC presidents met virtually Saturday morning and decided to cancel the fall football season, a source told Yahoo Sports. The MAC will focus on playing football in the spring. Stadium first reported the development.

All day Friday, athletic directors and coaches were fixated on the MAC as a potential harbinger for the sport. The MAC becomes the first FBS conference to cancel sports this fall, setting the table for a new question around the industry: “Who goes next?”

The Big Ten presidents are scheduled to meet on Saturday afternoon and discuss the league’s 2020 future, sources told Yahoo Sports. There’s some momentum among league presidents to cancel the fall season. But it’s unknown if there’s enough for a decision to be made immediately.

As noted before, the University of Connecticut, which now operates as an independent for football, cancelled its season as well. Optimism abounds elsewhere, with plans for mostly-full schedules and some fans in attendance. All I can say at this point is that it sure seems unlikely to me that “not playing football at all until spring” and “preparing to play football in the fall as if everything is more or less normal” cannot simultaneously be the optimal strategy. I don’t know at what point the FBS bubble bursts, but I feel like it has to sooner or later.

Optimism abounds in the AAC

Good luck with that.

In the face of a pandemic, the American Athletic Conference will attempt to conduct business as usual this football season.

A plan announced Wednesday will allow AAC schools, including the University of Houston, to play a full 12-game schedule, if they so choose, and begin the season on time, even as COVID-19 continues to grip the U.S.

The AAC will play all eight of its conference games as originally scheduled beginning Sept. 19, and schools can schedule as many as four nonconference opponents, according to the plan unanimously approved by the AAC’s Board of Directors.

“We wanted to keep our eight-game schedule the way it was, not to be too disruptive to the teams,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said during a phone interview Wednesday. Asked about the uncertainty of playing a full 12-game schedule due to COVID-19, Aresco added: “We’re not sure that our teams can get to 12. There’s a lot that could affect that. This is the most unusual year we’ve ever faced.”

UH is expected to play an 11-game schedule, which begins Sept. 3 against Rice at TDECU Stadium. A 12th game — a nonconference trip to Washington State on Sept. 12 — was canceled with the Pac-12’s decision to play a conference-only schedule and is unlikely to be filled, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

I mean, I’m sure they’d like to do that. Many conferences are greatly restricting or eliminating non-conference games – the Big XII will allow for one non-conference game, others like the PAC 12 are doing none – so the extra games for AAC members may prove challenging to set up. Well, extra games with major-conference schools, anyway.

I remain perplexed by the belief that we’re going to have college football as if it were a normal year. The “bubble” concept seems to be working (or has worked) for basketball and soccer, while MLB baseball has had more than its share of problems with its rollout. I don’t see any reason to think that the players will be safe – never mind the coaches and staff and everyone else – and the idea that there could be fans in the stands is even more bizarre. On the other end of that spectrum, former AAC member UConn will not play football at all this fall. Maybe they’re the forward-thinking ones. The Trib has a more comprehensive roundup of what the various conferences are planning, for now. I’d assume all of that is written on the sand, at low tide. All I can say is, there’s not much time for things to get better before the games, such as they may be, begin.

UT prepares for fantasy football

I have no idea what they’re thinking.

The University of Texas at Austin will kick off the football season Sept. 5, albeit with a stadium open at half its capacity, athletics officials told ticket holders Monday.

While both NCAA and Big 12 Conference officials have yet announce firm decisions on how college football will proceed as schools grapple with the pandemic, Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte sent an email Monday to season ticket holders announcing the season would move forward as planned.

“I want you to know that as we are working toward hosting football games this season, our number one priority remains the health and safety of our student-athletes, staff and fans,” Del Conte wrote.

To align with capacity restrictions designated by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this summer, Del Conte said seating at the Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium will be reduced to 50% to facilitate social distancing, meaning around 50,000 Longhorns could potentially be seated in stands next fall.

The decision comes on the heels of an outbreak among student athletes shortly after they arrived on campus to begin voluntary summer workouts. The school also reported its first death, a staff member, earlier this month. There have been more than 500 COVID-19 cases at UT-Austin since March, according to the school’s dashboard.

But officials have pushed forward with kicking off the football season as planned. The annual game between the Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners occurs during the State Fair of Texas, which organizers canceled this year. Still, Del Conte said earlier this month that the game will be played.

I mean, I know that Greg Abbott says its OK, but there’s just no way on God’s field-turfed Earth that this makes any sense. I certainly hope that we will have this current outbreak under some control by September 5, but does anyone think that virus levels will be low enough to allow for this kind of mass gathering? Again, I remind you, professional sports is gingerly and haltingly trying to play games in front of empty stadia, in some cases with teams that have been and will continue to be completely isolated from the rest of the world. What makes the NCAA think they can do better than that?

(Can you imagine being the owner of a restaurant that’s classified as a bar, or a winery, or a craft brewery with a beer garden and reading this story? The risk assessment here is just off the charts wacko.)

(Apparently, the beer gardens can reopen now. If they are aware of this very quiet decision, anyway.)

OK, I get that Chris Del Conte needs to address his season ticket holders, and assure them that the Longhorns are on top of this situation, and that if by some miracle they can play football in front of fans this year, UT has a plan to accommodate as many of them as they can. But geez, this is amazingly tone deaf.

Meanwhile, in something closer to the real world.

The Southwestern Athletic Conference on Monday became the latest conference to move its fall athletic calendar to the spring of 2021 due to concerns related to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The safety of its student-athletes was at the forefront of the decision.

“We’re still going to play football. It’s just a matter of moving it to the spring,” Texas Southern football coach Clarence McKinney said. “I like the decision. It gives us a chance to slow down and come up with a true plan to protect our student-athletes.”

Texas Southern, along with Prairie View A&M, is part of the SWAC’s five-state footprint that includes schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Other fall sports impacted in the move are volleyball, cross country and soccer.

A part of the Football Championship Subdivision, the SWAC will go to a seven-game schedule in the spring of 2021, with the conference championship game hopefully to be played no later than April 30. Each football team will play six conference games (four divisional/two nondivisional) with an option to play one nonconference game.

I like their chances better than I like UT’s, I’ll say that much.

High school sports pushed back a bit

Just a guess, but I’d bet this winds up being redone at least once more before any actual sports get played.

The University Interscholastic League is delaying the start of high school football’s regular season to Sept. 24 for Class 6A and 5A schools with the state championships moved to January.

The change is part of the league’s altered fall sports schedule for the 2020-2021 school year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For 6A and 5A schools, the first day of football practice and volleyball practice is now Sept. 7; volleyball’s regular season starts Sept. 14 with state championships Dec. 11-12; cross country meets and team tennis matches start Sept. 7; cross country’s state championship meet is Dec. 5 and team tennis’ state championships are Nov. 11-12.

Schools in Class 4A through Class 1A are remaining on the original schedule. For 1A-4A: football and volleyball practice begins Aug. 3; volleyball’s regular season starts Aug. 10; football regular season’s Aug. 27; volleyball’s state championships are Nov. 18-21; football’s state championships are Dec. 16-19.

The high school football playoffs for 6A and 5A schools are slated for an early December start with the district certification deadline of Dec. 5. For volleyball in these classifications, the deadline is Nov. 17.

[…]

In comparison with like-minded high school athletics governing bodies in Texas, The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools delayed the start of fall practice to Sept. 8 with competition beginning Sept. 21 and football season kicking off Sept. 28. The Southwest Preparatory Conference also delayed competition for its schools to Sept. 8 with conference games not occurring until the week of Sept. 21, at the earliest.

The California Interscholastic Federation is delaying its entire high school sports schedule with its football teams set to play its first games in late December or early January.

The Trib adds some more detail.

Marching bands across the state can begin their curriculums on Sept. 7.

The organization also issued guidance on face coverings, protocols for individuals exposed to COVID-19 and how to set up meeting areas like band halls and locker rooms.

Anyone 10 years or older must wear a face covering or face shield when in an area where UIL activities are underway, including when not actively participating in the sport or activity. People are exempt from the rule if they have a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering, while eating or drinking or in a body of water.

Some schools won’t have to follow UIL’s face covering rule if they are in a county with 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases that has been approved for exemption by the Texas Department of Emergency Management. In that situation masks can still be mandated if the local school system implements the requirements locally, according to the press release. UIL still “strongly” encourages face coverings in exempt schools.

As the Chron story notes, many school districts have already announced the will begin the year as online-only, per the new TEA guidelines. Students at those schools will still be eligible to participate in UIL extracurriculars, which also includes music. This is from the Texas UIL Twitter feed:

The “Class” stuff refers to school size, where 6A and 5A are the largest schools – this classification used to stop at 5A, but suburban schools kept getting larger. It’s not clear to me why smaller schools – and 4A schools are still pretty big – are exempt from the schedule delay. In the end I don’t think it matters, because unless we really turn things around in the next couple of weeks it’s still not going to be safe, and the UIL will have to revisit this again. Don’t be surprised if in the end, everything gets delayed till the spring. The DMN has more.

Will college football shift to the spring?

Maybe.

[Dell] Billings, who graduated from A&M in 1995, also realizes it’s looking more like the brakes are about to be mashed on any “full speed ahead” approach, perhaps within a few weeks.

“I can’t see how we would be in the stands at Kyle Field when you have situations like ‘The Basketball Tournament’ that’s happening on ESPN right now and there are no fans,” Billings said. “That’s just a small tournament. How are you going to put 100,000 people inside a stadium in September?”

That is the multimillion-dollar question, one A&M, the Southeastern Conference and the rest of college football likely must answer by the end of this month.

“We said from the onset of this pandemic that circumstances around the virus would guide our decision-making, and it’s clear recent developments related to COVID-19 have not been trending in the right direction,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said this week. “There are important decisions to be made in the coming weeks, and by late July there should be more clarity about the fall season.”

The Ivy League on Wednesday is expected to announce that it will shift its football schedule to the spring semester. One Power Five administrator told The Athletic that could lead to a domino effect in college football.

“My suspicion is the majority of presidents in the (Football Bowl Subdivision) are uncomfortable with the notion of playing football this fall, but for various reasons don’t want to be the first to step out and say that,” the administrator told the website, adding that the Ivy League’s bold salvo “provides the cover” for others to follow suit.

The Ivy League has in fact suspended its fall sports schedule, including football. Other conferences are now taking baby steps in that direction.

The ACC will delay the start of competition for all fall sports until at least Sept. 1, the league announced Thursday. The move, which follows a similar decision by the Patriot League, will affect several sports, including soccer and field hockey, but not football.

The league said that affected games might be rescheduled and that there’s an understanding that cancellation of nonconference games will not result in financial penalties.

The ACC’s decision to delay the start of the fall season is the first by a Power 5 conference. The Patriot League has pushed its start back until Sept. 4, and the Ivy League announced the cancellation of all fall sports earlier this week.

The ACC’s football schedule is set to begin on Sept. 2 when NC State visits Louisville.

The decision was unanimously approved by the ACC board of directors.

As that story notes, while the football schedule hasn’t been affected yet, multiple schools have had to suspend workouts due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The Big Ten has taken a different tack, cancelling all non-conference games. I don’t know what’s going to happen – pushing everything off till spring seems like a remote possibility at this time, at least for the big conferences – but having stadia packed with fans seems even crazier now. I’ll say this much – if the various pro sports leagues are successfully operating as of August, then maybe the NCAA can do so as well. But if the pros can’t do it, there’s no way in hell the collegians can do it.

In case you needed another reminder that this coronavirus thing is dangerous

Here you go.

The Orlando Pride have withdrawn from the upcoming NWSL Challenge Cup after six players and four staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, a significant setback for a league attempting to become the first in American professional team sports to resume competition.

Orlando announced the decision Monday, six days before it was scheduled to play the Chicago Red Stars on the opening day of the tournament held in the Salt Lake City area. It said in a statement that all players and staff who tested positive remained asymptomatic.

“This was obviously a difficult and disappointing outcome for our players, our staff and fans, however this is a decision that was made in order to protect the health of all involved in the Challenge Cup,” said Orlando Pride executive vice president Amanda Duffy, who resigned as NWSL president in January. “While we were all excited to see the 2020 Pride on the field this weekend, our priority is now making sure our players and staff safely recover and providing any support wherever and however possible.”

[…]

NWSL teams were still in preseason in March when the coronavirus pandemic effectively shut down sports in the United States. After repeatedly postponing the start of its scheduled season, the league announced in late May that it would resume play with a tournament in Utah involving all nine teams.

Speaking at the time the tournament was announced in May, Dr. Daryl Osbahr, team doctor for the Orlando Pride and a member of the NWSL’s medical task force, said it was inevitable that there would be positive tests but that the league put protocols in place that it hoped would allow for “not shutting down the tournament or necessarily a team by one positive result.”

Those protocols, which called for contact tracing and quarantining what were deemed high-risk contacts, apparently made it unfeasible for the Pride to travel to Utah and begin play.

See here for the background. The rest of the NWSL is still on track to play, but this is a stark reminder that no matter what all of the leagues that are currently in some state of returning to play plan to do, it’s ultimately not in their control. Any or all of them may wind up shutting down again because the risk to player and other employees’ safety is just too great. Until there’s a vaccine, or at least a reliable cure, this is the reality we are in. Our plans are all written on sand.

Fauci and football

I hate to rain on your tailgate, but…

The NFL is planning to begin its season on time, but Dr. Anthony Fauci pulled the reins on that optimistic view Wednesday.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble – insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day – it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on CNN. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

The NBA and MLS are planning to resume their seasons in July with players in a bubble. So far, the NFL hasn’t publicly discussed that option. A bubble also seems particularly untenable for college football teams on school campuses.

“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches, and other essential personnel,” the NFL’s chief medical offers Dr. Allen Sills told ESPN on Thursday. “We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem. This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts, and other sports leagues.

“Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”

The NFL has maintained that training camps will start in late July and its regular season will begin as scheduled with the Texans playing at Kansas City on Sept. 10.

Don’t anyone tell Greg Abbott or Ross Bjork about this. That story appeared a day before we got stories about MLB and NHL teams closing their training facilities following positive COVID-19 tests. We’ve already seen other stories about NFL and NCAA teams doing the same. It’s more than fair to ask if teams can even keep their own people safe, let alone their customers. I’m as ready as anyone to see my favorite sports leagues and teams again. I just want it to be done safely, and right now the evidence that can be done at this time is not abundant.

A few bumps in the road for the NBA

How’s that season restarting going?

A month ago, superstar players got on a Zoom call and reportedly created a united front to support a safe return to play. A lot has changed since. Last week, the 28 NBPA player representatives all voted in favor of the league’s proposal (which was approved by the board of governors the day before). But a closer look at the NBPA statement shows that the vote was strictly an approval of “further negotiations” with a caveat that “various details” were still to be negotiated.

Now that we’ve arrived at those various details, different parties have started to speak up with dissenting opinions. Last week, commissioner Adam Silver was fielding concerns about whether older coaches would be allowed to sit on the bench. On Wednesday, ESPN reported that a faction of players is hesitant to restart the season because of a policy that wouldn’t allow visitors until the first round of the playoffs, as well as a lack of motivation for teams unlikely to compete for the championship. Yahoo Sports reported Friday that a “significant” number of players were upset about not having a vote in approving the proposal and that some were reluctant to express their opinion to star players who want to play. Kyrie Irving, who is a vice president of the players union, was reported to be pushing for players to reconsider the planned restart.

[…]

One of the main concerns is that some players believe a return to play would detract from the current protest movement prompted by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Some players have already participated in the nationwide protests, and many have spoken out against police brutality on social media, including LeBron James, who yesterday announced plans to form a voting rights group with other athletes and celebrities. Malcolm Brogdon said on The JJ Redick Podcast that there are players who are interested in sitting out the rest of the season as part of a protest. Garrett Temple, meanwhile, told The Ringer that he believed going to Orlando was the right move and that being there a month before tipoff would give players the opportunity to come up with a plan to send a message.

“When you take a stance on things, you do that to bring attention,” said Temple, who is also an NBPA VP and represented the Nets in the player vote. “Then, after that, you have to actually do something to cause change … so whatever we do, it needs to be something that can cause tangible change in our community, in our game, in our country.”

That initial agreement was reached almost two weeks ago. Players were also surprised to find that the Disney/ESPN quarantine “bubble” doesn’t include Disney/ESPN employees, who will come and go from the site as before. Sure looks like a bit of a risk factor there. Even Commissioner Adam Silver is saying there are still issues to work out, and maybe this won’t be for every player. It still seems likely that the NBA will restart, but (no pun intended) it’s not a slam dunk. Things change fast, and time is limited. Until the teams actually start practicing and games get put on the schedule, it’s not a done deal.

Since I mentioned MLB in that earlier update, which at the time looked to be providing a “don’t be like this” contrast to the NBA, here’s one more Fangraphs article to read about how much the players were willing to negotiate versus how much the owners were willing to negotiate. That forthcoming grievance is gonna be something else.

What kind of college football season will there be?

News item: Governor says to expect half-full stadiums for college football.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told athletic directors from the state’s largest schools to expect 50 percent capacity at football games this fall, USA Today reported, but Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork is remaining optimistic.

With more than 80 days to Texas A&M’s first scheduled game against Abilene Christian at Kyle Field, Bjork said this is no time for absolutes when determining college attendance in the late summer and fall, based on the global pandemic.

“As of today, we still have time on our side,” Bjork said Saturday. “And we will not make decisions based on incomplete information.”

USA Today reported that Abbott met with the dozen athletic directors from the state’s Football Bowl Subdivision programs via teleconference Friday, and “told them not to expect capacity at their stadiums to be above 50 percent this fall.”

“The governor was very gracious with his time and provided us with insights into the current situation,” Bjork responded Saturday. “It’s disappointing that information from the meeting leaked since the discussion was meant to be confidential, and I will not disclose the details of the conversation and violate Gov. Abbott’s trust.”

Bjork, hired by A&M a year ago from the same position at Mississippi, added: “As we’ve learned throughout this unprecedented situation, everything remains fluid, and there are a number of scenarios for attending upcoming pro and college sporting events.”

Bjork has expressed confidence this month that Kyle Field might be near its capacity of more than 100,000 as the fall schedule presses on. The Aggies are scheduled to host ACU on Sept. 5 in coach Jimbo Fisher’s third season.

Emphasis mine, and the Chron has a separate story expanding on Bjork’s rather optimistic hypothesis. Abbott had previously stated that he expected college football to be played, though he didn’t specify at what capacity the stadia might be. I will remind you that at this point, all of the professional sports leagues, from the ones that are now playing to those that are still planning their comebacks, are playing in empty arenas. It’s impossible for me to square that with the likes of Kyle Field at full capacity. They can’t both be right.

And on that note, we have this:

The University of Houston abruptly halted voluntary workouts Friday after six student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19.

In a release, UH said it was suspending workouts – which began June 1 with football and men’s and women’s basketball – “out of an abundance of caution.” The school said the six symptomatic student-athletes had been placed in isolation and contract tracing procedures have been initiated.

The announcement comes nearly two weeks since voluntary workouts began and as the Houston area has seen a recent surge in positive tests for COVID-19.

UH becomes the first school to suspend athletic activities since the NCAA cleared the return of student-athletes back to campus following a nearly three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

UH only tested student-athletes that showed symptoms or came from areas that had a high number of positive cases, a person with knowledge of the protocol told the Houston Chronicle earlier this week. Athletic officials have declined comment.

In other words, there are others they didn’t test that might possibly be positive as well. The story lists fourteen other schools that have reported athletes with positive COVID-19 tests, including three in the SEC. It is very likely that all of these athletes will recover fully – I certainly hope they all do – and now that they have been tested they can be quarantined so as not to pass the virus on to anyone else. UH is the only school in this story that actually stopped its voluntary workouts as a result of this, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. My point here is that whatever the likes of Greg Abbott and Ross Bjork may say or do, they ultimately have very little control over this virus. And as I keep saying, they don’t seem to have much of a plan for it, either.

UPDATE: Welp.

Several Texans and Cowboys players have tested positive for COVID-19, including Dallas star running back Ezekiel Elliott, according to the NFL Network.

The players who tested positive reportedly weren’t in attendance at their team facilities, which have remained closed due to NFL restrictions limiting their use only to rehabilitating injured players during this global pandemic. Both teams have followed medical protocols.

[…]

NFL teams, including the Texans, have taken steps to ensure the safety of players, coaches and staff. The Texans created a new position, hiring a facility hygiene coordinator earlier this offseason. The Texans are believed to be the first professional sports team to add this type of specialized position.

The intention is to minimize the risk factor of getting or spreading COVID-19 and supervise the custodial staff, which is provided by Aramark.

I know, that’s NFL, not NCAA. My point is, it’s not just a question of whether or not it’s safe to have fans in the stands. There’s still the little matter of whether it’s actually safe to have the players practice and play together.

UT athletes take a stand

Good for them.

Several athletes at the University of Texas at Austin are refusing to participate in recruiting incoming players or show up at donor-related events if university and athletics officials fail to respond to a list of demands geared toward supporting black students, according to a statement posted Friday afternoon by dozens of the student athletes on Twitter.

Brennan Eagles, the school’s sophomore wide receiver, and Brandon Jones, a senior defensive back, were among the students who posted the statement, detailing a list of actions Longhorn athletes want the university’s athletics department to take. These include donating 0.5% of the department’s annual earnings to the Black Lives Matter movement and black organizations, establishing a permanent black athletic history exhibit in the Athletics Hall of Fame and renaming parts of the football stadium after Julius Whittier, the first black football letterman at UT-Austin.

In addition to demands specific to the athletics department, athletes also want UT officials to rename campus buildings named after Texans who were proponents of segregation or held other racist views, remove a statue of prominent segregationist James Hogg and discontinue the school song, “The Eyes of Texas,” which has ties to minstrel shows and was created during segregation. Other calls to action include requiring a module on the history of racism at UT and increasing outreach efforts to inner-city schools in Austin, Dallas and Houston.

“We, as student athletes, and collectively as the University of Texas Longhorn football team, are aware that we are an athletic department made up of many black athletes, and believe that it is time we become active on our campus,” the statement reads.

Athletes will continue to practice and participate in workouts and team activities this summer but are asking for a “plan for implementation” before the fall semester begins.

[…]

After a widely circulated petition and statements from more than 100 student organizations, the larger UT student body sent a letter detailing student demands to interim President Jay Hartzell earlier this week. Their requests mirror those of the athletes — students want UT to “acknowledge its racist history” by renaming seven campus buildings and structures, removing the Hogg statue and discontinuing the school song.

Additionally, they are asking UT to cut ties with the Austin Police Department and campus police and adopt inclusive practices in recruiting and selecting UT faculty. UT leadership said it would respond to those demands in the coming weeks.

“We are aware of three petitions created by students and look forward to working with them and the UT community to create the best possible experience on our campus for Black students,” UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said in an email.

Like I said, good for them. My guess is UT will concede on a few things but not everything. I have a really hard time imagining that “The Eyes of Texas” will stop being the school song, but you never know. I hope some other school’s athletes are looking at this and getting their own ideas. The Chron has more.

Here comes high school football

Surely you didn’t think that Texas’ favorite sport would stay on the sidelines for long?

More focus will be on instruction, caution and care than nailing the perfect squat rep when University Interscholastic League athletic programs return to in-person strength and conditioning training Monday.

Teams won’t be crawling, walking and then running through coronavirus-altered training this summer. North Shore football coach Jon Kay said “we’re really going to be sitting first, then crawling and then walking and then jogging.”

They have no choice, considering the thorough safety precautions.

The UIL’s outlined requirements for in-person weight training and sport-specific skill instruction include a maximum of 25 percent capacity at indoor workout facilities. It means approximately 36 people — including coaches and athletes — will be allowed in Dickinson’s weight room. Masks and face coverings aren’t required by the UIL but will be by Dickinson ISD inside buildings.

Social-distancing measures of at least 6 feet are required, and workout stations will be at least 10 feet apart. That has required some interior redecoration in places like Cleveland, where football coach Jason Fiacco said he and his staff have spaced out stations inside the current weight room and marked spots where players should stand during workouts.

“It’s going to be unlike any other lifting program anybody has really every devised,” Fiacco said.

The UIL is allowing one staff member per 20 athletes during workouts. Hand-sanitizing and washing stations are required, and every weight and bar will be disinfected before each use.

[…]

Coaches must be strict “because we’ve got to get this right,” Dickinson football coach John Snelson said. Coaches believe football in the fall hangs in the balance, as does, more importantly, the health of the athletes.

Kay mentions the University of Alabama, where reports say at least five football players tested positive for COVID-19 after a player-led workout session last week.

Teams must adapt on the fly because, as Snelson said, “there is no playbook.” What happens if an athlete gets sick or someone a coach has been around is sick? What happens if a coach misses a session? What happens if participation numbers are larger than expected? All UIL teams regardless of sport can open training Monday, but football is usually a behemoth of a production. Snelson expects approximately 250 football players in Monday morning sessions for ninth through 12th grade alone.

The UIL requires participation to be optional. Snelson expects some parents will be eager for their son or daughter to be somewhere other than home. Some parents will be conservative, which is understandable.

I mean, we’re all just taking it on faith that this will be fine. If we had better testing and contact tracing, I’d feel more confidence. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be a spike in COVID cases as a result. I just hope – that word I have to keep using since we don’t have a plan – it isn’t as bad as I fear it could be.

Coronavirus and Professional Bull Riding

Here’s how Professional Bull Riding managed to keep doing what it does during the pandemic.

The PBR went on hiatus March 15 at the conclusion of an Unleash The Beast event in Duluth, Ga., that was closed to the public. A COVID-19 protocol was then developed and implemented during three weekends of made-for-TV events at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla., that began April 25. CEO Sean Gleason said his team worked tirelessly on that plan, which has since been shared with over a dozen other sports leagues.

“The PBR team rose to the occasion, took a lot of common sense, thought through a lot of issues and have been able to get back to work and keep our riders earning some money,” Gleason said.

“The whole industry is dependent on PBR events, so to not have them would have been devastating to a lot of people.”

COVID-19 testing, RVs and the concept of “functional groups” have been the keys to the PBR’s stringent protocol.

RVs essentially became quarantine pods; each person stayed in one on the grounds of the Lazy E. Everyone was also tested for coronavirus and had to isolate in an RV for 24 hours while awaiting results. The PBR reported all tests were negative during the three events in Oklahoma.

Separation was created by functional groups. Each person was assigned to a group of less than 10 people, usually six or seven, and interaction was permitted only for members of the same group. Each group wore different colored wristbands and ate at separate locations.

Individuals were screened before entering the arena. Every person on site had to practice social distancing and wear masks.

Gleason said it was a challenge to sync up all the moving parts and to meet constantly evolving guidelines at all levels of government. The riders helped make it easier, though. All bought in to make it work.

“Every guy was more than willing to go through those protocols, just to have the opportunity to do what we love to do,” said Cody Teel, PBR rider and College Station resident.

It’s a good story, and kudos to PBR for figuring out something that worked. I don’t know how well this model can translate to other sports leagues, but I’m sure there’s something in their experience for others to learn from.

MLS agrees on its restart, WNBA still considering options

More sports coming.

The MLS Players Association voted Wednesday to approve a revised collective bargaining agreement with the league. The new deal will run through 2025 and clears the way for Major League Soccer to resume its 2020 season via a single-site format in Orlando, Fla.

“I can’t give any further specifics on that Orlando concept,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a video conference with media. “That was a very, very big part of our discussions with our players. …We were fortunate to be able to finalize an agreement, as the union announced early this morning.”

Garber said details regarding the competition in Orlando, including format and dates, will be released later, but it is expected to be a tournament lasting no longer than 35 days. It will be conducted at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which is where the NBA is planning to finish its season.

The commissioner also reiterated his commitment to finishing the season, even if that means pushing the MLS playoffs into 2021.

See here for the background. As noted, the NWSL is already set to return, on June 27. The NBA will be using the same ESPN facility, and I have yet to see how the logistics of that will be handled. I’m sure someone has a plan for it.

Meanwhile, the WNBA is still figuring things out.

The WNBA is considering playing its season at an MGM Resorts International property if it has a season this year, according to a report from The Associated Press.

The other location under consideration is IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The league announced the suspension of its season in April amid the coronavirus pandemic and has not decided on a start date. Operational details of a possible start are not clear, but the league would use a single site — much like the NBA.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the AP on Tuesday that the league has discussed a variety of options but did not confirm whether Las Vegas or IMG Academy were possible locations.

“We’re looking at the pros and cons of a number of different locations,” Engelbert told the AP.

The WNBA hadn’t actually started its season yet – like MLB, it was still in its preseason when it suspended activities. If the WNBA chooses to play its games in Las Vegas, they may have some company in the form of the National Hockey League, which is considering Vegas among a list of other cities to play its games; like the NBA, the NHL season was suspended just before playoffs were to begin. Again, I’m sure someone will figure out how to handle multiple leagues and all their people sharing the same facility. I’m just trying to stay on top of the news here.

NBA sets a plan, MLB still working it out

Happening today.

The NBA is finalizing details of a plan which is expected to be approved by the league’s Board of Governors on Thursday, paving the way for a return from the coronavirus shutdown.

The board is poised to give the green light to commissioner Adam Silver’s return of basketball which would begin July 31 with a 22-team format, and end in mid-October with a champion being crowned, ESPN reported.

The plan requires support from three quarters of the league’s 30 teams in order to be approved.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Nets and Orlando Magic currently hold the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies occupy the postseason positions in the Western Conference.

Under the plan, each of the 22 teams will play eight regular-season games for seeding purposes for the postseason.

The 16 teams currently in the playoff picture will be joined by the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference.

In the East, the Washington Wizards are also included.

[…]

All games are expected to be within the confines of Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando Florida, with all teams remaining on site to minimise risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.

See here for the background. ESPN adds a bit more:

Life in the NBA bubble will be governed by a set of safety protocols. While players and coaches will be allowed to golf or eat at outdoor restaurants, they will also need to maintain social distancing, sources told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.

The NBA is planning to have uniform, daily testing for the coronavirus within the Disney campus environment, sources told ESPN. ESPN is owned by The Walt Disney Company.

If a player tests positive for the virus, the league’s intent would be to remove that player from the team to quarantine and treat individually — and continue to test other team members as they play on, sources said.

Employees at the Disney resort will have to maintain similar protocols. For example, no staff will be allowed into players’ rooms, and hallways will be carefully managed to avoid crowding, sources told Shelburne.

Weird, but the NBA had played the bulk of its season anyway, and the playoffs are always a different thing entirely. I just hope those employees at the Disney resort had someone thinking about their welfare as this deal was being hammered out. The Chron has more.

And then there’s MLB:

Major League Baseball has rejected the players’ offer for a 114-game regular season with no additional salary cuts and told the union it did not plan to make a counterproposal, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Players made their proposal Sunday, up from an 82-game regular season in management’s offer last week. Opening Day would be June 30, and the regular season would end Oct. 31, nearly five weeks after the Sept. 27 conclusion that MLB’s proposal stuck to from the season’s original schedule.

MLB told the union it had no interest in extending the season into November, when it fears a second wave of the coronavirus could disrupt the postseason and jeopardize $787 million in broadcast revenue.

While management has suggested it could play a short regular season of about 50 games with no more salary reductions, it has not formally proposed that concept. Earlier this week, multiple players told ESPN that they would not abide a shorter schedule, with one saying, “We want to play more games, and they want to play less. We want more baseball.”

See here for the previous update. If this sounds dire to you, let me refer you again to Eugene Freedman, who’s been around this block a few times.

Basically, it looks like the sides have agreed to the March deal, and now need to work out the safety and testing details, plus what to do if a player wants to opt out. Maybe the NBA getting set to start at the end of July will inspire them to agree on some version of their July 4 Opening Day season. Fingers crossed. The Chron has more.

NWSL will be the first American sports league to return to play

We’ll see how it goes.

The National Women’s Soccer League will become the first U.S. team sport to resume play June 27 with a month-long tournament in suburban Salt Lake City, and the rebuilding Houston Dash hope the unique format will give them a chance to succeed against more established rosters.

Wednesday’s announcement of the NWSL Challenge Cup gives teams four weeks to reconvene and resume training after the COVID-19 shutdown. Each of the nine teams will play four games, leading to quarterfinals, semifinals and a July 26 championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

“It’s very exciting to be the first and really important that we showcase the league and the players to the highest levels,” Dash coach James Clarkson said. “The safety of everyone is the most important thing.”

While the league will be among the first pro team sports to resume play since the coronavirus pandemic stopped games in mid-March, it could be without some high-profile players from the U.S. Soccer’s women’s national team.

At least seven players on the 23-member national team roster have said they will not participate, the Washington Post reported. Others were said to be awaiting word on testing and safety issues before committing to the tournament.

[…]

Games in Utah will be played without fans present and will be streamed on the CBS All Access subscription service. The tournament opener June 27 at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, and the July 26 championship game will air on CBS Sports.

The host Utah Royals FC will provide housing, training and game site needs for all nine teams and will create what it described as an “NWSL Village” in an effort to assure players’ health and safety.

With only nine teams, the logistics for the NWSL are a little easier than for other leagues, just because there will be fewer people involved. This is a great opportunity for the NWSL, as they will have the sports landscape to themselves for a brief period, but it’s also obviously a risk, as they could easily be the first league to then have to deal with a new coronavirus outbreak among their active players. Like it or not, by virtue of being first up, they get to be a test case for everyone else. I wish them luck. ESPN and Deadline have more.

Abbott expects there to be college football this fall

Pretty optimistic, if you ask me.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he believes college football will begin on schedule in Texas with some fans in the stands, he told KXAN during an interview Friday.

“My prediction is yes we’re going to have college football beginning as scheduled, on schedule, with at least some level of fans in the stands,” the governor said.

Abbott said what is unclear at the moment is what the capacity level would be.

“Would it be strategic and limited to ensure that we have safe distancing practices, there are factors we simply do not know at this time,” Abbott explained about the potential health risks of reopening UT football in the fall.

Abbott stated that the University of Texas at Austin’s athletic director needs a decision by early August. He said the state thinks it should be able to make a decision by then.

This isn’t out of the blue. In April, the chancellors of Texas A&M and Texas Tech said they expect there will be football when they reopen in the fall, though that story didn’t address the question of fans. ESPN quoted Abbott referring to the reopening plans of MLB and the NBA, though those sports and others like MLS are all talking about fan-free games, possibly at a single location. It’s one thing to imagine the games happening, especially if the campuses are open anyway. It’s another to imagine sixty thousand people or more packed into a stadium screaming their lungs out, especially if the pro sports leagues are still playing before nothing but empty seats. Texas A&M at least is thinking about what this might mean.

“We have not gone down the path of examining every section,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said of exactly how many fans Kyle Field will hold with mandated social distancing in place. “There are a lot of scenarios being discussed.”

Like that proverbial glass, Bjork prefers to envision a stadium as half full, not half empty, should restrictions be in place this season.

“We want a full experience, and we’re staying positive — that’s the approach we’re taking right now,” Bjork said. “We know we can pivot quickly if we have to, but we have not mapped that out.”

[…]

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has gradually reopened the state in the past month, but he has held off on potentially crowded events such as county fairs. With that in mind, what exactly would Kyle Field look like at, say, 25 percent capacity?

Roughly 25,000 fans would be spread throughout the stadium, and which fans would be allowed in would be determined in a potentially convoluted process.

“You’ve got 102,733 seats,” Bjork said. “Last year we sold about 85,000 season tickets, including right around 35,000 student tickets. That leaves you about 18,000 empty seats. The great thing about Kyle Field is we have a lot of space. So you would start with your infrastructure and analyze it from there, but we would not (ideally) want to decrease our season ticket base. …

“We have a huge footprint, and we just haven’t had to go down that (downsizing) path yet.”

Should social distancing be required at Kyle Field this fall, not only would fans be spaced at least 6 feet apart throughout the stadium, but multiple measures would be in place to try to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

That might mean everyone but the players and those on the sideline would be required to wear masks (further muffling touchdown celebrations and the Aggies’ tradition of kissing after a score); an abundance of hand sanitizers spread throughout the stadium; and scheduled times for different sections to enter the stadium so there is no squeeze at the gates, where body temperatures might also be checked.

Bjork added that it might be helpful for fans to bring their own beverage containers to limit the number of hands on a cup, making last year’s new policy of selling alcohol throughout the stadium a bit trickier. A&M and its concessions cohort made more than $1 million off alcohol sales at Kyle Field in 2019, according to the university.

“One of the things that we’ve had to do with the alcohol policy is have (employees) pour the bottle or can of beer into a cup (for fans); that’s an SEC policy,” Bjork said. “Does that need to change so you limit as many contacts as possible? Those approaches are being studied right now.”

So are the possibilities of limiting the university-sanctioned tailgating scene around Kyle Field, and the myriad activities in the Aggie Fan Zone on the plaza north of the stadium that create a festival-like atmosphere in the hours before kickoff.

“There’s nothing you can really put in writing right now or have a ‘backup’ plan yet, because there’s too much uncertainty, and it’s way too early,” Bjork said of the Aggies’ plans for Kyle Field starting with the Sept. 5 opener against Abilene Christian.

Which fans would get to attend would also present a knotty question for them. I do expect there to be a lot of pressure for playing college football, for various financial and social reasons. How that manifests remains an open question, and that’s before we take into account the possibility of a resurgence, in which case all of this will seem extremely stupid.

This is an issue that has more than the usual amount of resonance for me. As you know if you’ve been reading this site for awhile or know me in Real Life, I’ve been a member of the Rice Marching Owl Band (MOB) for many years. I don’t know at this point what Rice plans to go regarding its sports teams, nor do I know at this point what the MOB plans to do. (They’ve been busy with the usual end-of-semester activities, saying goodbye to graduating seniors and installing the new drum major and drum minor, that sort of thing.) I really don’t know what I plan to do just yet if everyone is going ahead like normal. On the one hand, we’ll be outside and there will be a reasonable amount of space for us all in the stands. On the other hand, there’s only so much social distancing a band can do and still sound like a band, the deep breathing that playing a wind instrument requires is an extra risk factor for COVID transmission, and everything else about the stadium experience will involve a lot of closer-than-I’m-comfortable-with contact with other people. Maybe if we’ve really got infection rates under control, or there’s true universal testing, I’d be willing to trot out there for another season like it was the Before Times. I’m not feeling that right now. Ask me again in August and we’ll see. The Chron has more.

The NBA inches closer to a return

We’ll know more soon.

NBA teams are expecting the league office will issue guidelines around June 1 that will allow franchises to start recalling players who’ve left their markets as a first step toward a formal ramp-up for the season’s resumption, sources told ESPN.

Teams expect a similar timeline from the league on when they’ll be allowed to expand individual workouts already underway with in-market players to include more team personnel, sources said.

The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is discussing a step-by-step plan for a resumption of the season that includes an initial two-week recall of players into team marketplaces for a period of quarantine, one to two weeks of individual workouts at team facilities, and a two- to three-week formal training camp, sources told ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, many NBA owners, executives and National Basketball Players Association elders believe commissioner Adam Silver will green-light the return to play in June — with games expected to resume sometime before the end of July, sources said.

The NBA is still considering a two-site format for the return of the season, including Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Las Vegas, sources said.

See here for some background. That story was from Thursday. As of Saturday, things had progressed a bit further.

The NBA is going to Disneyworld. Or at least, it hopes to save its season and declare a champion in a single-site scenario outside of Orlando.

In the most public sign yet that the NBA is hopeful that it can resume its 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league has begun exploratory talks with the Walt Disney Company about using its venue in central Florida to hold practices and games without fans present.

“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” Bass said in a statement.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”

The MLS is also looking at Orlando, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility. I don’t know how much that might complicate the logistics, but one presumes they will figure it out. The Chron had reported earlier in the week that the Toyota Center in Houston had been in the discussion as a potential venue, but that is apparently no longer in play. It’s possible the NBA will go straight into a playoff system, or it may play some more regular season games but eliminate the teams with the worst records to limit the number of people required to be there. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

As you know, Major League Baseball has also been working on a season-starting proposal, though in typical fashion the owners are making up claims about financial losses in an attempt to back out of the previous agreement with the players and squeeze them on salaries. I suspect this will get resolved at some point, in which case we may suddenly have a lot of sports coming back to us. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t a big post-reopening spike in infections or other insurmountable obstacle. But if things go as the optimists hope, we could go from no sports to a fairly full slate in a hurry. We’ll see.

MLS has a plan to start its season

That’s Major League Soccer, and their plan may sound a bit familiar.

With no indications of when it could resume the season in home markets, MLS has proposed placing all 26 teams in the Orlando area this summer and playing competitive matches without spectators at the Disney sports complex and possibly other locations, multiple people familiar with the plan said.

The players, coaches and support staff, numbering more than 1,000, would live under quarantine at one of the large resorts near Disney World for an undetermined length of time, said those people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

Teams would practice and play primarily at ESPN Wide World of Sports, which sits on 220 acres as part of Disney’s massive footprint in central Florida. Disney-owned ESPN is one of MLS’s broadcast partners.

[…]

The league is expected to accelerate plans over the next two weeks and set the framework for resuming a season that, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, was shuttered after two weekends.

In jurisdictions where such activities are permitted, several teams have begun voluntary individual workouts, including the Dynamo in Houston. The league has postponed all matches until at least June 8, though the realistic timetable stretches deeper into the summer.

MLS hopes to soon allow players to begin training as part of small groups in local markets, a step the Bundesliga took last month before ramping up operations. The elite German circuit, along with the country’s second division, will resume this weekend with matches played without spectators.

Other European soccer leagues have also made plans to restart their seasons in the coming weeks.

Under its Orlando plan, MLS would welcome teams for workouts and multiple matches per day, which ESPN platforms would carry. It’s unclear whether the league’s other TV partners, Fox Sports and Univision, would show games.

This story came from the Washington Post. This plan is kinda sorta like the original Major League Baseball plan, which would have had all the games played in Arizona; that plan has now morphed into something that would have games played in most league cities. As with MLB, this plan would include games in an empty facility, isolating all the players and other personnel needed for the games – which means they would be away from their families for several months – and regular testing, with some contingency in reserve for if/when there’s a positive test. Money will be an issue, and while the state of Florida is “reopening”, sports facilities like ESPN Wide World of Sports are not yet included in that. So, fair to say, there are still details to iron out. But if you’ve been waiting for news about a sport other than baseball, there you go.

The NBA takes a baby step towards coming back

This may not amount to much, but it’s a potential sign that there may be more like it coming.

The NBA is reopening team practice facilities beginning on Friday for players in states and municipalities that are loosening stay-at-home restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

Players can return to team facilities in states such as Georgia for voluntary individual workouts as soon as next week, which allows for NBA organizations to start allowing players to return to training in a professional, safe environment.

Teams will remain prohibited from holding group workouts or organized team activities, sources said.

In markets in which more restrictive governance of stay-at-home orders remain in place, the NBA is telling teams the league will work with franchises to help find alternative arrangements for their players, sources said.

The NBA’s decision to reopen facilities based on the loosening of local governmental policies isn’t reflective of a new timetable for a resumption of play this season, sources said. Commissioner Adam Silver and owners still believe they need more time for a clearer picture on whether, when or how they could possibly resume the season, sources said.

Many team executives have been clamoring for the chance to get players back into their facilities, which they believe to be among the safest possible environments around the pandemic. On a conference call with general managers and Silver on Thursday, some GMs said they had players asking about the possibility of traveling to Atlanta to work out in fitness centers with gymnasiums, an idea that concerned many team executives, sources said.

“If our players can travel and play at a 24-Hour Fitness in Atlanta, they should be able to have access to our facilities,” one GM told ESPN on Saturday.

With Greg Abbott’s announcement about a plan to “reopen the economy” coming today, we might see the Toyota Center among those facilities. As noted before, the NBA is still sounding a lot of caution about when or if it might be able to resume its season. Unlike MLB, they have not been floating various games-in-a-bubble scenarios. As such, I don’t think this is necessarily anything more than just the teams trying to provide a (hopefully) safe way for players to work out. It’s not hard to imagine how that could lead to something more, however. It’s also not hard to see how that could lead to more players getting sick. For right now, it’s a bit of news, and we’ll see where if anywhere it goes.

The NBA is still looking for its way back

Nobody really knows what the next couple of months look like.

On the eve of what would have been the start of the postseason, NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday said he could not predict when, if or how it would resume its season or even when the league might know.

“We are not in position to make any decision and it’s unclear when we will be,” Silver said after the league held its annual spring Board of Governors meeting on Friday.

“I don’t mean to send any signals about the likelihood or not of restarting the season. All I can say is we’re still at a point where we don’t have enough information to make a decision.”

Quoting Disney CEO Robert Iger, who made a presentation to the Board of Governors, Silver said decisions were “about data, not the date.”

With that in mind, Silver could not even predict when decisions would have to be made because of the uncertainty in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. He said many formats to play regular-season games and a postseason would be considered and that the league would be willing to delay the start of next season if necessary.

Still, even the factors that would have to be weighed to attempt to salvage the 2019-20 season showed how difficult it will be to resume the season that had been suspended on March 11.

“We’re looking for the number of new infections to come down,” Silver said. “We’re looking for the availability of testing on a large scale. We’re looking for the path we’re on potentially for a vaccine. And we’re looking at antivirals. On top of that, we’re paying close attention to what the CDC is telling us on a federal level and what these various state rules are that are in place.

“There’s a lot of data that all has to be melded together to help make these decisions. That’s part of the uncertainty.”

See here for some background. I’m less interested in the particulars, which includes something similar to the MLB games-in-a-bubble idea, than I am with the basic concept that no one has any idea when things will return to something sufficiently resembling “normal”. Right now, we’ve got the Governor talking about “reopening the economy”, and we’ve got whackjobs filing lawsuits and engaging in socially-undistanced protests over stay-at-home orders, all of whom want to more or less pretend that things are fine and we can all go back to going about our business. We also have these multi-billion-dollar enterprises, like the NCAA and major sports leagues, who would also very much like to get back to their own business of making money but have to take into account the very real risk to the health of their players, their employees, their fans, and so on. These leagues will act in their own self-interest, but that self-interest is balanced against other forces, which includes the players’ and officials’ unions, and the local governments where their teams are. The fact that a entity like the NBA, which is seeing the calendar run out on its current season, cannot say when it might be able to play its games again tells me more about our ability to “reopen the economy” than any crony-laden gubernatorial task force ever could.

Whither college football?

All NCAA spring sports were canceled due to coronavirus, beginning with March Madness and going through baseball and softball and soccer and everything else. Everyone has been looking forward to the fall when things were supposed to be back to “normal” again, but no one knows for sure what might happen.

NCAA Division I college sports in Texas is a billion-dollar business for the 23 participating schools, and athletic directors estimate 75 percent to 85 percent of that revenue is tied directly to football in terms of ticket sales, sponsorships, media rights fees and, for most schools, direct contributions from the students or the university.

All those revenue streams are in jeopardy with 20 weeks to go before the scheduled football season openers in late August, which is why college athletic directors are game-planning every potential scenario that comes to mind.

“The financial repercussions of not playing a football season are so significant there is going to be a way to do it and play it and do it responsibly,” University of Houston athletic director Chris Pezman said last week on KBME (790 AM), the school’s sports flagship station.

“If you don’t have that revenue stream that is associated with football, it gets dire very fast. … I am confident we are going to find a way through this and we’ll be able to play the season, whether it’s pushed back a little bit or the idea of playing in the spring.”

At Texas A&M, athletic director Ross Bjork is running through similar scenarios involving the mathematics of time and money.

Regular and postseason football requires four months with the addition of the College Football Playoff, and that must be preceded, Bjork said during a conference call last week, by a 60- to 75-day preparation period for players who have been outside the watchful, demanding eyes of strength coaches for several weeks.

John Sharp, Texas A&M’s chancellor, said last week October would not be too late to begin a complete 2020 season, which would presume a return of players, based on Bjork’s time model, in mid-July.

However, what flies in Texas might not work in other states.

As an example, the executive officer of Santa Clara County in northern California, which includes Stanford University and Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, said last week he did not expect “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”

A&M, Bjork noted, is scheduled to play Colorado at College Station on Sept. 19. There’s no guarantee, however, Colorado will be in the same stage of recovery as Texas by mid-September.

Accordingly, Bjork said he expects a “layered” approach to football’s return, based on the advice of conference and university leaders and local and state governments.

“There’s not one trigger point,” he said. “We’re all just guessing, really. We don’t know what the data will tell us. We can model, but until you know when you’re starting or when you can have togetherness, it’s kind of hard to predict.”

It’s hard to imagine how sports like Major League Baseball can contemplate their return if the start of the NCAA football season is in jeopardy. Of course, MLB has the “play their games in hermetically sealed stadia in a small number of locations with no fans” option, which college football does not. I don’t doubt the desire or the intent to bring the games back, even if starting the season in December and essentially playing a spring season is a possible way forward. But as with everything else, there’s only so long you can push back one season before you push up against the next one, and there’s no way to know what the effects will be on fans, who may not be ready to tailgate and pack into venues just yet. It’s good for the leagues to prepare for all possibilities. You never know, things might go better than expected. It’s just all so massively weird right now.

RIP, XFL

Tough break.

The XFL suspended operations Friday morning and laid off nearly all of its staff, multiple sources told ESPN. While a handful of executives remain employed, the league currently has no plans to return in 2021.

The league canceled its season last month after five games as part of a nationwide shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, pledging to return next year.

But XFL CEO Jeffrey Pollack changed course Friday, conducting a 10-minute conference call to inform employees of the news.

Commissioner Oliver Luck, hired in 2018 to guide the most ambitious spring football league in decades, did not speak on the call. It was not immediately clear if he is still with the league.

According to a prominent former XFL staffer who was on the call, Pollack stopped short of saying the league was going out of business. But the strong implication was clear. “It’s done,” the staffer said. “It’s not coming back.”

There was no immediate comment from the league.

I wasn’t a fan of the XFL. Nothing against it – it certainly wasn’t laughable the way the original XFL was – it just held no interest for me. From what I observed, they put out a reasonably entertaining product, and a few players like former Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker made enough of an impression to sign with NFL teams. They seemed to be on the road to at least having another season, but that was not to be. Perhaps this means another league will give it a try down the line, as the proof of concept seems to have been a success. Just not enough of one to survive this pandemic, the main difference between the XFL and established sports leagues being the latter have a lot more cash on hand to ride things out for awhile. I am somewhat worried about other leagues, from minor league baseball to lower-tier leagues like the ones for rugby and softball, maybe even to the NWSL and MLS. As with so many other things, who knows what the landscape may look like a month or a year from now.

The NBA tries to look forward

Hope + uncertainty = where we are right now.

While expressing a hope that bordered on determination that the NBA would be able to salvage its season in some form, commissioner Adam Silver also said the unknowns in the COVID-19 crisis are greater than even three-plus weeks ago when he suspended the season and that no decisions will be coming soon.

“Essentially, what I’ve told my folks over the last week is that we should just accept that for at least the month of April we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said in a Twitter interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson on Monday. “I don’t think that necessarily means on May 1 we will be.

“That doesn’t mean internally and in our discussions with our players and the league we aren’t looking at many different scenarios for restarting the season. But I think it is just honestly too early, given what is happening right now, to be able to project or predict where we’ll be in a few weeks.”

Silver said he hopes “to try to finish a regular season in some form and then move on to the playoffs” but that the league has not made any decisions.

He said the NBA initially was considering options for regular and postseason schedules based on potential restart days but has learned that even hypotheticals were relying on excessive guesswork.

“We just have too little information to make those sorts of projections,” Silver said. “I will say, though, as we look out into the summer, there does come a point we would start impacting next season. Even there, a few weeks ago nobody thought we were talking about a potential impact on next season independent on what we might choose to do to finish our regular season and playoffs.

“I don’t want to leave anybody under the impression we’re not trying to do everything we possibly can under the right circumstances. Player safety and the health of everyone in the NBA family has to come first. That may mean there is a scenario we can play without fans. That’s something we look a lot at.”

As we know, MLB is also thinking about when it can begin again. Both of these followed a meeting of multiple sports commissioners with Donald Trump, who would really really like it if this coronavirus thing went away ASAP. Again, I’m happy that the leagues are thinking about how this might work for them, but I think May is an aggressively early timeframe for it. The NBA is in some ways more constrained than MLB precisely because they have to start worrying about their next season, which would start in September. If they’re not able to begin playoffs soon, who knows where they’ll be in the fall. It’s just that none of this is really within their control.

Congratulations, Rudy T!

Long overdue.

At last, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame no longer will underestimate the accomplishments of a champion.

Rockets icon Rudy Tomjanovich will be named Saturday to the Hall of Fame Class of 2020, a person with knowledge of the voting said Friday.

While Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett undoubtedly will headline the class in their first season of eligibility, the coach who long had fallen short in the voting will receive the call his peers and successors had so badly wanted for him.

Tomjanovich, 71, received at least the 18 votes necessary from the 24-person Hall of Fame panel after he fell short of being a finalist last year and couldn’t garner enough votes in two previous seasons as a finalist. He had been the only coach to lead teams to multiple NBA championships and an Olympic gold medal who wasn’t in the Hall of Fame.

An All-American at Michigan and a five-time All-Star as a Rockets player, Tomjanovich will be inducted as a coach who long has been celebrated by his peers.

“Everybody knows when he said, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion,” he was talking about his team,” former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “But unfortunately, that’s what’s happened to him. Everybody’s underestimated him and his accomplishments and his heart and his class. To me, it’s an absolute shame … I hope they rectify.”

Besides Bryant, Duncan, Garnett and Tomjanovich, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, former Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, former Indiana Fever and Olympic star Tamika Catchings and Bentley coach Barbara Stevens were named as finalists.

That story was written before the formal announcement, which confirmed Rudy T’s enshrinement. If there’s one thing that cemented my identity as a Houstonian, it’s the 1993-94 Rockets’ championship run, which was just amazing to watch. (Their encore in ’94-95 didn’t hurt, either.) Great team, super coach, well-deserved honor, I’m overjoyed to see it. Congrats all around.

(By the way, kids, did you know that back in the year 1994, the first round of the NBA playoffs was mostly on pay-per-view? I watched several of those games, in ’95 as well, at sports bars because of that. It boggles my mind to think about it now, but that was the state of the NBA on TV at that time.)