The coronavirus outbreak has forced difficult decisions for the sports-event industry. Nearly every major sporting event has been canceled, moved or postponed. Here is a look at where things stand.
Tuesday, October 20
TENNIS: No Canceling Wimbledon in 2021, Club Says
Through all the focus — deservedly so — as professional, collegiate, amateur and youth sports in the United States have taken varied ways to return to action during this year while trying to minimize the risks of the coronavirus, one thing that may not have been as front and center were the myriad difficulties for professional tours that are worldwide.
There was the risk of virus outbreaks on the tours, for one thing. Then there was travel restrictions throughout the world based upon what country was making the decisions. Whether it was quarantine periods, testing or bubbles, worldwide events have had a particularly hard time of things.
One sport that has tried to put together as much of a worldwide schedule as possible is the WTA and ATP tennis tours. After a summer resumption of play in the United States with a tightened bubble doubleheader event in New York City capped by a U.S. Open without fans, the tour then quickly transitioned to clay court events in Europe with the French Open recently completed to cap the Grand Slam season.
But the grandest slam of all, Wimbledon, was noticeably absent. One of the biggest early events in the world to become canceled, the All England Lawn Tennis Club got perhaps as much attention for the fact that it had purchased pandemic insurance years ago for April’s announcement of the event’s cancellation itself, its first since World War II.
The AELTC made its first statement recently about next year, which is already facing queries given the rise of cases in the United Kingdom: Wimbledon will be held in 2021 — even if it has to adopt the same policy as the U.S. Open did this summer and have the event without fans.
“Staging the championships in 2021 is our number one priority and we are actively engaged in scenario planning in order to deliver on that priority,” Chief Executive Sally Bolton said, adding that organizers are planning on a series of contingencies that also do include the chance of having fans in some quantity.
While Wimbledon was canceled, each of the Grand Slams this year were held in less-than-ideal circumstances. The Australian Open was held as scheduled in the spring but during a period of horrible wildfires in the country. The U.S. Open was held during its scheduled dates with no fans while the French Open, typically held in May in Paris, was instead held in late September with a limited amount of fans on hand.
Monday, October 19
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Big Ten Already Walking Schedule Tightrope
The Big Ten Conference, which had postponed its football season temporarily to the spring before a hasty rework saw it schedule a compressed fall schedule, is already seeing the difficulties that may occur with attempting to play eight games in eight weeks.
Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm revealed that he has tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. Brohm is undergoing a PCR test to confirm the results of the test as his team is scheduled to start its season on October 24 against Iowa. While Big Ten athletes who test positive are required to be held out for 21 days, coaches follow CDC guidelines that call for 10 days of isolation.
Unlike other Power 5 Conferences, the Big Ten does not have an extra week for the schedule worked into its plan ahead of the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis should there be any games that are canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the team or staff. Of the three Power 5 Conferences that have already started its seasons — the Big 12, ACC and SEC — each has had at least two games moved around because of team outbreaks, showcasing the difficulty that the Big Ten will have ahead. The last of the Power 5 Conferences to kick off, the Pac-12, has a seven-game conference schedule that starts in the first week of November.
Notable coaches known to have tested positive for COVID-19 include Florida’s Dan Mullen, Florida State’s Mike Norvell, Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin and Kansas’ Les Miles. Alabama’s Nick Saban was cleared to coach the Crimson Tide on Saturday, three days after a false positive test.
Friday, October 16
NFL: League Could Get Through Weekend Without Postponements
After two dramatic weeks filled with postponements, reshuffled schedules and a full-fledged outbreak within one of its teams, the National Football League is on the verge of having its first weekend without a late postponement or cancellation in three weeks.
The schedule itself is not what was planned back in the offseason — there is a special Monday doubleheader and several games on the scheduled were shifted around a week ago. But overall, the league is moving forward without disruption even while some teams have had dodgy moments.
Drama ensued on Friday at two AFC team facilities, as the Indianapolis Colts shut down its complex after hearing four members of the organization had tested positive — before returning a negative test on Friday morning. The Atlanta Falcons had closed its facility on Thursday after a positive test but that was reportedly to an assistant coach and not a player.
One team that did have to close its facility for all of Friday and cancel practice was the New England Patriots, who reportedly had another player test positive. The team was awaiting the results of a second test to confirm the positive ahead of Sunday’s schedule game against the Denver Broncos. Both teams have already have their off weeks and should any additional positives be recorded, that would force the NFL to face a difficult decision with its scheduling.
Friday’s positive test for the Patriots comes the day after quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, most notably, practiced for the first time after being taken off the reserve/COVID-19 list. Newton’s positive test had forced the delay of New England’s game against Kansas City from Sunday, October 5 to the following day while Gilmore’s positive test came as the team was on an off week.
One team that has not had to deal with a positive test this week, the Arizona Cardinals, announced it will have 1,200 fans for its October 25 home game against the Seattle Seahawks. The Cardinals will be the 16th out of 32 NFL teams to have some level of attendance at home games this season. The 1,200 fans will be less than two percent of State Farm Stadium’s capacity. The Chargers, Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, Raiders, Packers, Bears, Vikings, Lions, Bills, Jets, Giants, Patriots, Saints, Washington and Ravens are the teams that have yet to play in front of a home crowd, although the Vikings have been allowed to have up to 250 family members in attendance for Sunday’s game against the Falcons.
Week 6 NFL Schedule
Detroit at Jacksonville: Up to 16,791 fans will be in attendance
N.Y. Jets at Miami: Up to 13,000 fans will be in attendance
Cincinnati at Indianapolis: Up to 12,500 fans will be in attendance
Green Bay at Tampa Bay: Up to 10,000 fans will be in attendance
Houston at Tennessee: Up to 8,643 fans will be in attendance
Baltimore at Philadelphia: Up 7,500 people will be allowed in the stadium
Cleveland at Pittsburgh: Up 7,500 people will be allowed in the stadium
Chicago at Carolina: Up to 5,240 fans will be in attendance
Atlanta at Minnesota: Up to 250 family members of players will be in attendance
L.A. Rams at San Francisco: No fans until further notice
Denver at New England: No fans until further notice
Washington at N.Y. Giants: No fans until further notice
Arizona at Dallas: Close to 25,000 fans will be in attendance
Kansas City at Buffalo: No fans until further notice
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Alabama Coach’s Diagnosis May Be False Positive
News that rocked the Southeastern Conference on Wednesday was reversed on Friday as the University of Alabama announced that coach Nick Saban tested negative for COVID-19 and may be able to be on the sidelines Saturday night when the No. 2-ranked Tide host No. 3 Georgia in what will be the biggest college football game of the season so far.
The negative test was on Thursday afternoon and makes it possible that the positive test on Wednesday was a false positive. Alabama Head Athletic Trainer Jeff Allen said Saban was evaluated by a team physician on Friday and remains asymptomatic. If Saban is tested again on Friday afternoon and it comes up negative, he would be allowed to return to full activity.
The news that Saban had tested positive briefly gave rise to the issue of if the Alabama-Georgia game would be postponed; while the game as of now is going full steam ahead, two SEC games scheduled for this weekend were already postponed earlier in the week, including a big tilt between Florida and defending national champions LSU. With outbreaks going on at Florida, Vanderbilt — necessitating the postponement of its game against Missouri — along with positive tests at Mississippi, it makes college football cross a threshold it was hoping to avoid: Every conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision has had at least one game postponed or canceled because of the coronavirus.
The postponements shuffled schedules around for several SEC schools on Friday as the league continues to deal with the virus. Several of the league’s coaches have come under criticism for not correctly wearing facial coverings — if at all — and the league’s commissioner, Greg Sankey, reported told schools that each member would face cumulative penalties of up to $1 million for violations of sideline protocols when it comes to wearing masks. Sankey showed he was not messing around immediately, reportedly fining multiple schools.
News: The SEC fined at least three teams for not adhering to COVID-19 protocols, sources tell @SINow: Ole Miss, A&M & Tennessee.
AD Ross Bjork confirmed to SI A&M’s fine.
Greg Sankey had sent memos to schools warning of a $100K reduction in conference revenue for non-compliance
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) October 16, 2020
Thursday, October 15
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEC Rocked by Postponement, Nick Saban’s COVID Diagnosis
Through the first few chaotic weeks of college football, with multiple non-conference games being postponed and cancelled and schedules being reworked on a regular basis, lying in wait was the Southeastern Conference.
At the time, the majority of popular opinion was the SEC played it correctly. The league did not make an early decision to not play and then have to deal with the fallout of a reversal of that decision, such as the Big Ten and Pac-12. It also decided it would only play conference games, which looked like smart once schools from the ACC and Big 12 had outbreaks in early September.
But now the league that often brags “it just means more” is facing the reality that COVID doesn’t care if the game does, in fact, mean more. The biggest game to date this season, No. 2-ranked Alabama hosting No. 3 Georgia in a Saturday prime-time kickoff, is hanging in the balance after Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban revealed on Wednesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus and is self-isolating.
“I can do absolutely everything here,” Saban said from his home during a remote press conference. “I’ll have the same exact routine. … I didn’t leave the country or anything and we have this technology.”
Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne also tested positive, according to the school. Alabama, which started testing its players on a daily basis last month, will continue to test everybody within the football program on Thursday.
Alabama team physicians Jimmy Robinson and Jeff Allen said the school would follow the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force Protocol for testing asymptomatic positives, which both Saban and Byrne are. CDC guidelines say those with positive tests must isolate for 10 days and contact tracing requires a 14-day quarantine.
Another traditional SEC heavyweight clash, LSU at Florida, was postponed on Wednesday and will be scheduled for December 12 instead. Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said the Gators, who paused practices on Tuesday, have 21 positives on the team.
Stricklin said the school suspects the team’s trip to play Texas A&M last weekend is the flashpoint for the outbreak — a game that, after the Gators lost, saw the biggest news made in the postgame when Florida Coach Dan Mullen said he wanted to see 100% capacity at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the then-scheduled LSU game. To no one’s surprise, Mullen backtracked on those comments on Wednesday.
CDC guidelines say those with positive tests must isolate for 10 days and contact tracing requires a 14-day quarantine. Those guidelines could put Florida’s game on October 24 against Missouri in jeopardy, although Stricklin said it was too soon to tell.
“Obviously we’ll be in communication with the Southeastern Conference and probably get Missouri, obviously as our next opponent, to kind of keep them abreast of what we’re seeing,” Stricklin said. “We’ll continue as I said our regular testing protocol for those who aren’t in quarantine, and hopefully we don’t have any more positives and we’re able to get on the other side of this and then we can get everyone back in a situation where you can go compete again.”
Florida-LSU is the second SEC game this week that has been postponed, joining Missouri against Vanderbilt. Commodores Coach Derek Mason said on Wednesday that his team has around “high 40s” of available scholarship players.
And even SEC schools with games not postponed are dealing with outbreaks. Mississippi Coach Lane Kiffin, whose team played Alabama last week, said they are dealing with a COVID-19 issue in the team and while he would not give exact numbers, admitted “we are hurting numbers wise.” Mississippi is scheduled to play Arkansas on Saturday.
Wednesday, October 14
NFL: Saints Want to Play at LSU if New Orleans Mayor Says No to Fans
There are 15 teams in the National Football League allowing fans, with more than 8,000 on hand for Tuesday night’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans — delayed because of an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Titans franchise that delayed the game.
Of the other NFL teams yet to play in front of home fans, one in particular has tried multiple times to get approval from local authorities. And after the latest rejection, the New Orleans Saints went public to suggest they would leave the city to find a venue where they can have in-person attendance.
Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said the team has talked about playing at Tiger Stadium on the campus of LSU, about 80 miles away from the Superdome. The Tigers are allowed by local authorities to have up to 25 percent capacity for in-person attendance — approximately 25,580 — and are experienced in hosting the Saints, having four games there in 2005 when the team was displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
“Our game operations staff is meeting with LSU officials [Tuesday] to discuss potentially hosting future Saints home games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge,” Bensel said. “LSU has been gracious and enthusiastic regarding hosting our future games and we very much appreciate their partnership. We have also discussed the possibility of moving our home games to LSU with the NFL and they are aware of our exploring this option. Obviously, our overwhelming preference is to play our games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with partial fan attendance but there has been no indication from the city on when, or if, this might be approved.”
The Saints’ next home game is October 25. New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell released her own statement, saying “while the Saints’ request for a special exception to the city’s COVID-19 guidelines remains under consideration, allowing 20K people in an indoor space presents significant public health concerns. At present, no NFL stadium in the country with a fixed-roof facility is allowing such an exception. We will continue to monitor the public health data, but cannot set an artificial timeline for how and when conditions may allow for the kind of special exemption being requested.”
One team this weekend which will have fans for the first time is the Philadelphia Eagles, who received permission from the state of Pennsylvania to have up to 7,500 people on hand which includes players, coaches, team and stadium personnel, media and fans.
While nearly half the teams in the league are allowed to have fans at games as it stands, that does not mean the allotments are being sold out. While the Dallas Cowboys are averaging just under 24,000 per game, the team’s total number of available tickets sold has not been public. And for every other team in the league hosting fans, none are averaging ‘sellouts’ — the Pittsburgh Steelers had fans in the stands for last weekend against the Eagles and said they would be selling 5,500 tickets. Only 4,708 attended.
Fan attendance will continue to be one of the hottest issues within the NFL this season in addition to player health protocols, especially in the light of the past two weeks’ worth of schedule reshuffling that has seen multiple games moved around. While NFL officials did not rule out the idea of adding an extra week to the regular season, the idea of a playoff bubble does not have much traction at this point.
“We don’t feel that is the safest course of action for us,” NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said, while league executive Troy Vincent pointed to the emotional toll players from the NHL and NBA pointedly admitted to dealing with while in those respective leagues’ long-term bubbles to complete the seasons — both of which were achieved, it must be said, without any positive tests.
One thing the league has decided to do away with is the Pro Bowl, announcing that instead it will “will work closely with the NFLPA and other partners, to create a variety of engaging activities to replace the Pro Bowl game this season.” That will give the 2022 Pro Bowl to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas instead of 2021; it also allows the league to utilize an extra week at the end of the regular season should that be needed for a series of postponed games.
Tuesday, October 13
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Florida Coach Wants 90,000 At Swamp on Saturday
Only those with a distinct bias against the University of Florida would not call the football team’s home stadium, The Swamp, one of the hardest places for a road team to win in the country. Set in a sinkhole, the venue has had sound levels measured as high as 115 decibels during games.
The Gators’ home opener against South Carolina did not come close to that type of noise. Restricted in its attendance to 17,000 by health and safety protocols, the team drew an announced 15,120 on October 3 against the Gamecocks.
So Florida coach Dan Mullen’s comments after his team’s loss this past Saturday at Texas A&M drew a mixture of shock and horror, saying — based off permission given by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to sports venues — he wanted to pack The Swamp to capacity on October 19 when the Gators host defending national champion LSU.
In fact, when Mullen first made the comments, he was explicitly asked as a follow-up if he was being serious and realized what he was saying.
“Absolutely I want to see 90,000 at The Swamp,” Mullen said. “The section behind our bench [today], I didn’t see an empty seat. It was packed; the entire student section; must have been 50,000 people behind our bench going crazy. Hopefully, that will create a home-field advantage for us next week because we’ve passed a law in our state that allows us to do that.”
(For accuracy’s sake, the Aggies announced a crowd of 24,709, under its allowable capacity of 25,683 this fall.)
Mullen’s boss, Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, within hours of his coach’s postgame press conference told the Gainesville Sun and ESPN, “We continue to follow UF Health and campus safety guidelines.” And Mullen clarified Monday he had not talked with Stricklin about the attendance allowed for the LSU game.
Then on Tuesday came what some would call a Karma-enforced twist throughout the Gators program.
Florida pauses football activity on Tuesday. Statement from AD Scott Stricklin. pic.twitter.com/tnXIMLTzuB
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) October 13, 2020
Mullen’s comments led to a series of predictable jokes as well about the SEC’s mantra of ‘it just means more.’ But that does not mean games will go off as planned. Vanderbilt’s game at Missouri scheduled for October 19 has been postponed until December 12 because the Commodores will not be able to suit up the minimum 53 players.
It is the first postponed game in the Southeastern Conference, which this year is only playing conference games to try and mitigate breakouts among teams. The Commodores only had 56 players active in a 41-7 rout to South Carolina; NCAA guidelines say a player who tests positive must sit for a minimum of 10 days and be symptom-free for three days prior to returning.
The SEC’s announcement was followed by another Power 5 cancellation as Baylor’s game against Oklahoma State, scheduled for October 19, will also be postponed to December 12. The move was made after the Bears had to pause activities last week — and Baylor Athletic Director Mack Rhoades then admitted there are 28 cases of COVID-19 among players and 14 cases among football staff members.
Rhoades, talking with SicEm365 Radio on Monday, said the outbreak may be linked to the team’s October 3 game at West Virginia and a false negative test that allowed an infected individual to travel.
The Big 12 is the same as the SEC in that a team must have 53 active players for a game to be played, including walk-on players. This is third time a game involving Baylor has been affected, including a September 12 season opener against Louisiana Tech and a September 19 game against Houston.
The two high-profile postponements brought college football’s difficulties in pulling off a season in the COVID-19 era back to light. While the National Football League has taken most of the headlines for the amount of schedule shuffling linked to positive COVID-19 tests on multiple teams, somewhat lost the past week was that college football’s schedule went off almost completely as planned with only two postponements — one of them included Florida Atlantic, whose coach confirmed that his team has 18 players and nine staffers currently dealing with the coronavirus.
Monday, October 12
NBA: As Lakers Win Title, League Celebrates Bubble Success
As the buzzer sounded and LeBron James celebrated with the rest of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates after winning the franchise’s 17th NBA championship, there was plenty of reason for the NBA’s front office and executive team to celebrate as well.
One of the league’s most ambitious projects, the ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports Bubble, was able to finish an abbreviated finish to the regular season as well as the full playoffs without a single positive test of COVID-19, the same achievement as the National Hockey League for the two most high-profile sports to have suspended their seasons in March.
“The pride of the sense that we’ve accomplished this against many obstacles,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, “and at a time also when I think people needed to see this.”
While other leagues obviously had to suspend operations or delay their seasons, both the NHL and NBA made the calls to suspend play as the end of the regular season loomed before the postseason. And the NBA decided to restart its season after several months away, it also did so with a few innovations and tweaks to its typical format.
The 22 teams invited to the bubble — nine from the Eastern Conference and 13 from the West — were all either having already clinched a playoff spot or in the hunt for one. After an eight-game sprint to the finish, the NBA set up a play-in series that was activated in the West, with the Portland Trail Blazers beating the Memphis Grizzlies to earn the eighth seed in a play-in game. The postseason remained the same, with best-of-seven series for each round of the playoffs and no expanded postseason fields.
What cost the NBA a reported $150 million in the bubble resulted in strict protocols that famously included only using a deck of playing cards once before they were thrown away and no doubles ping-pong events so that social distancing was enforced. The league took up space in three hotels on the Disney campus and had additional housing for staff and referees, hiring chefs and having barbers as well. Once the conference semifinal rounds started, players were allowed to bring a limited number of family members into the bubble — but only after testing protocols and quarantine periods were satisfied.
“I’m most proud that we collectively came together as a community and pulled this off,” said Silver before Game 1 between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. “By that I mean all of the stakeholders. The players, the team governors, 30 teams — not just 22 teams — the support we received from our fans.”
What happens next for the NBA is to be determined. The league will not start its 2020–2021 season in its traditional fall date for obvious reasons. There was talk about a big Christmas Day debut for next season, although Silver and the players association seem to be leaning more toward January for a start date. Not just when the next season would start but also under what protocols — another bubble has received a tepid response from players given the time away from family, but the chances of having indoor events at this point still looks to be extremely uncertain.
Those discussions have already started and will continue on another day. Sunday night and Monday morning, however, was a time to reflect for the league on what it was able to accomplish.
Sunday, October 11
NFL: The League Reshuffles Its Schedule
Like a game of whack-a-mole, the National Football League is taking each week and throwing games into new days and time slots to try and make sure that it stays on track in spite of an outbreak among the Tennessee Titans that refuses to dissipate — as well as two positive tests to star players on the New England Patriots.
In all, the schedule adjustments released on Sunday affect nine teams — New England, Tennessee, Denver, Buffalo, Kansas City, Miami, the Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars — leading many to half-jokingly suggest that the league’s schedule maker will end the season as the Most Valuable Player award winner.
Denver’s game at New England, scheduled for Sunday and then moved to Monday night, will be played next Sunday afternoon. Kansas City’s game at Buffalo has been moved from Thursday night to Sunday, October 19 while the Bills’ game at the Titans scheduled for this coming Tuesday night remains on schedule.
- Jets at Chargers moves from Week 6 to Week 11.
- Jaguars at Chargers moves from Week 8 to Week 7.
- Chargers at Broncos moves from Week 11 to Week 8.
- Chargers at Dolphins moves from Week 7 to Week 10.
- Dolphins at Broncos moves from Week 6 to Week 11.
Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: Up to 16,000 fans will be allowed
Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans: Up to 13,300 fans will be allowed
Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns: Up to 12,000 fans will be allowed
Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers: Up to 5,500 fans will be allowed
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: A “limited capacity” of fans will be allowed
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: A “limited capacity” of fans will be allowed
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens: Immediate family members will be allowed
Arizona Cardinals at New York Jets: No fans until further notice
Los Angeles Rams at Washington Football Team: No fans until further notice
Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers: No fans until further notice
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks: No fans until further notice
Los Angeles Chargers at New Orleans Saints: New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell denied the Saints’ request for up to 18,000 fans.
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans: Up to 8,500 fans will be allowed
MLS: Three Games Postponed Because of COVID
Major League Soccer has postponed three matches in the space of 24 hours amid an escalating number of positive coronavirus tests throughout the league, including the fourth consecutive match for the Colorado Rapids.
MLS originally postponed the match between the Rapids and the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday after a Rapids player tested positive for the coronavirus, then added Sunday’s Columbus match against Orlando City and the FC Dallas-Minnesota United match to the list.
Twelve Colorado staff members and five players have tested positive since September 24. Matches against Sporting Kansas City, the Portland Timbers and LAFC have already been postponed. The Rapids must now try to fit in 10 matches by the scheduled end of the regular season on November 8.
The Crew match was postponed following two confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Columbus staff, and Dallas-Minnesota was delayed after two confirmed positive cases among Minnesota’s player pool.
Thursday, October 8
NFL: More Positive Tests on Titans Puts Another Game at Risk
The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer left the door ajar for further steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 — including a suspension of the season — after more positive tests on the Tennessee Titans were revealed days after Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to teams detailing punishments for breaking protocols that include the possibility of games being forfeited.
Dr. Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer, said “nothing is off the table” in an NFL Network interview on Wednesday after the latest positives on the Titans — bringing the total up to 21 positive tests since September 24, including 11 players — as well as a positive test confirmed by Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore. Thursday morning brought reports of more positives on the Titans, increasing the odds that Sunday’s scheduled game against the Buffalo Bills may not happen as well.
The Patriots’ game this past weekend against the Kansas City Chiefs was postponed by one day to Monday night after New England quarterback Cam Newton reportedly tested positive. Tennessee’s game against Pittsburgh was postponed until later in the season.
The NFL was universally praised after having three weeks of the season go off without a disruption. But the league and NFL Players Association on Wednesday announced the COVID-19 monitoring testing results for September 20 – October 3 which showed that in that time span, there have been 13 player positives and 19 staff personnel positives.
“In the nine weeks since the beginning of training camp, we have had a number of isolated, new positive cases of COVID among players and other personnel across nearly two-thirds of NFL clubs and one outbreak among the Tennessee Titans,” said Sills in a release. “We have said all along that we expect positive cases. As long as the virus is endemic in our communities, we will see new cases among our teams. Risk mitigation, not elimination, is the key.”
Further reports indicate several Titans players broke protocols put in place by the league and players association and held unofficial practices at a school in Nashville after being told not to engage in any in-person activities. Yahoo Sports reported it could lead to penalties being levied against the organization that were “not a matter of if, but when and how severe.”
According to the Yahoo report, Goodell on Monday sent a memo to teams that “protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.”
All the while, teams are going ahead with plans to have fans in attendance. The policies have varied: the Pittsburgh Steelers will have up to 5,500 fans on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, the first time that the team has had fans in the stands. Two teams have announced home capacities for the rest of the season with the Denver Broncos hosting 5,700 fans and the Cleveland Browns hosting 12,000 fans. But there are teams holding off on attendance such as the Green Bay Packers, who said it will continue holding games without fans for now.
There is also the question of teams playing in front of restricted capacities not selling out their allotment. While the Dallas Cowboys have averaged 25,021 fans at its two home games, the Houston Texans are allowed up to 13,300 fans but last weekend only drew 12,102. The Kansas City Chiefs have been able to hold up to 16,000 fans this season but are averaging 14,312.
Then there is the case of the Florida teams given that Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday said the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins can have capacity crowds going forward. None of the teams said they would do so; the Dolphins explicitly said it would remain at its cap of 13,000, which has not been reached at either of its home games so far this season. The Jaguars said they would allow up to 17,000 fans but through two games are averaging 15,331; the Buccaneers have drawn an average of 6,383 through two games.
Wednesday, October 7
MLS: More Positives on Colorado Rapids Postpones Another Game
Right before the MLS is Back Tournament started in Orlando, Florida, Major League Soccer forced a quick decision on two teams that had outbreaks within their teams. And before group-play did get underway, the league sent FC Dallas and Nashville SC home.
The league, which after those teams were withdrawn were able to get through the rest of the bubble tournament without any positives, are now dealing with an outbreak on another team — this time the Colorado Rapids, which had another staffer test positive today and had its game scheduled for tonight at home against LAFC postponed.
The postponement is the third in a row for the Rapids, which have had four players and 12 staffers test positive in the past two weeks.The Rapids last played on September 23 when they beat San Jose 5-0 and since have had games against Portland and Kansas City already postponed before the LAFC decision.
Colorado, sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference which will have eight teams advance to the playoffs, has less than a month to play 10 matches to finish its 23-game regular-season schedule by MLS Decision Day on November 8. Its next scheduled game is Saturday at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
NHL: 2021 Season May Start on New Year’s Day
The 2020-21 NHL season will be, essentially, a 2021 NHL season with the league and players’ association looking at a target opening day of January 1, 2021. A four-year extension of the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified July 10 a tenative start date of December 1 but with obvious qualifiers about the spread of COVID-19 have led to the mulled delay in a start.
“We really haven’t focused precisely on what we’re going to be doing next season,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday on the NHL Network. “I think it’s fairly clear that while December 1 has always been a notional date, we’re focused on the fact that we’re really looking now at January 1 to start the season up. Our hope is to have a full season, full regular season and to have fans in the building, but there are a lot of things that have to transpire, many of which if not most of which are beyond our control before we can finalize our plans.”
The NHL paused the 2019-20 season March 12 before action resumed August 1 in a bubble format with Eastern Conference games and playoffs being held in Toronto and the Western Conference being held in Edmonton. Both conference finals were held in Edmonton before the Stanley Cup Final, won by the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games over the Dallas Stars. In the 65 days after teams entered Toronto and Edmonton on July 26, there were 33,174 tests administered to team personnel with zero positives for COVID-19.”The key was clearly the collaboration and cooperation we got from everybody, starting with the players and the players’ association, all of our clubs and particularly the owners in the NHL,” Bettman said. “We all had to work together if we were going to make this a reality, and it’s something that we and the players very much wanted to do. The players wanted to complete the season they started, but most importantly, we heard from our fans that they wanted us to complete the season as well, and that’s what it was all about.”
Tuesday, October 6
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEC Teams Face Criticism for Medical Protocols
As the National Football League maintains and continually reinforces its strict protocols for wearing facial coverings for coaches on the sidelines and among fans in the stands, college football is trying — and in some high-profile instances, failing — to do the same.
Days after Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey sent a memo to league schools reminding coaches and players to wear masks while on the sideline during games and threatening “additional action” if they do not follow the conference’s COVID-19 protocols, one of the league’s schools said they would no longer require a CDC wellness check before attending games and another promised they would try to do better after several social media posts indicated a failure in fan protocols.
At defending national champions LSU, where attendance is restricted to a maximum of 25,580, the team’s season opener had an announced attendance of 21,124 in a loss to Mississippi State. But for upcoming home games, the school has announced that a medical wellness check will not be required for fans “to reduce lines and wait times at gate entry points.”
LSU athletics said they “encourage fans to conduct a self-assessment before heading to the game to check for COVID-19 symptoms” but also announced that it will resume selling alcohol and will open all concession stands in the south lower section at Tiger Stadium.
The school did try to emphasize that masks are required in seating areas after admitting “a large percentage of fans removed their masks” once seated.
Death Valley really took on a whole another meaning. https://t.co/24Htw98aEG
— Chris Williamson (@CWilliamson44) October 5, 2020
The same look went viral multiple times on social media as the University of Georgia hosted Auburn in the weekend’s marquee game on the schedule. While the Bulldogs won handily, what was discussed just as much was the conduct of the announced crowd of 20,504 — below the school’s cap of 23,180 for this season.
Georgia Senior Deputy Athletic Director Josh Brooks told local media that more staffing and better enforcement in the lower north sections would be enforced to remind fans to stay in their assigned areas while students will be funneled to two other areas in the stadium.
— Kyle Serba (@KyleSerba) October 3, 2020
Social media was alive with images of fans not wearing masks from the ESPN broadcast. While the SEC’s fan health and safety fan guidelines include “face coverings (over the nose and mouth) shall be required as a condition of all guest ingress, egress, and movement throughout the stadium,” because that policy does not extend to those in seating areas, face coverings are not required for those in their seats by Georgia.
Brooks said not requiring face covering “is a decision we made that we feel comfortable with.”
Monday, October 5
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Two More Bowl Games Canceled by Pandemic
The college football bowl season, some have said in the past few years, is bloated beyond recognition with nearly four dozen events across the United States and beyond and giving teams that do not deserve a postseason opportunity the chance to have one more game.
Whether or not those naysayers continue to believe that will be interesting this college football postseason as at least three bowl games will not be held because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Redbox Bowl, which previously announced it would not be held this season in Santa Clara, California, was joined over the weekend by the Hawaii Bowl and Bahamas Bowls.
One difference between the announcement over the weekend about the Hawaii and Bahamas Bowls is that because of cross-border travel to the Bahamas, as well as Hawaii’s rules for incoming visitors, there are too many questions to be answered in a short period of time between when bowls make their selections and teams begin to prepare. Even in the best of circumstances, teams sometimes do not arrive at a bowl destination until a week or less before kickoff.
The Hawaii and Bahamas Bowls are owned and operated by ESPN Events. College basketball tournaments traditionally held in Hawaii and the Bahamas have also been canceled for this season.
“We are disappointed that we aren’t able to stage events at these premier destinations this year,” said Pete Derzis, ESPN senior vice president of college sports programming and ESPN Events. “We are committed to bringing both games back in 2021, and we thank our conference partners, sponsors and the local communities for their ongoing support and understanding.”
There are 39 bowl games currently on the schedule for 2020; unlike in past years, this year teams will not have to win a minimum number of games to be bowl eligible.
The Bahamas Bowl matchup this year was set to be Conference USA vs Mid-American Conference teams. The Hawaii Bowl was set to host a team from the Mountain West and a C-USA team.
Saturday, October 3
NFL: Marquee Patriots-Chiefs Game Delayed After Positive Tests
One of the marquee early-season games for the National Football League scheduled for this weekend, the New England Patriots against the Kansas City Chiefs, has been postponed from Sunday afternoon after one player apiece on both teams have tested positive for COVID-19.
As a result of the positive tests, the NFL said Sunday’s scheduled game will be played either Monday or Tuesday. Multiple reports indicate that the positive from the Chiefs roster came from a backup quarterback on the team’s practice squad; reports also said that the Patriots player who is positive is quarterback Cam Newton, although the Patriots did not confirm that.
“Late last night, we received notice that a Patriots player tested positive for COVID-19. The player immediately entered self-quarantine,” the Patriots said in a statement Saturday. “Several additional players, coaches and staff who have been in close contact with the player received point of care tests this morning and all were negative for COVID-19.”
It is the second game scheduled for this weekend that has been postponed because of positive tests on a team after the scheduled for Sunday between Tennessee and Pittsburgh was postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak among the Titans.
That game will be played on October 25, the league announced on Thursday. Multiple reports predicted the NFL would make what was the easiest potential adjustment to the schedule to fit the game back in by moving the Steelers’ scheduled Week 7 game against the Baltimore Ravens back one week, then rescheduling the Titans-Steelers game for Week 7 when Tennessee was already scheduled to be off.
The number of positive tests on the Titans increased on Saturday as ESPN reported there are now eight on the team’s roster who have COVID-19 in addition to eight staffers.
The Minnesota Vikings, who played the Titans last weekend, have had no positive results in testing. Their facility was reopened on Thursday.
In the wake of the virus spreading throughout the Titans organization, along with multiple members of the Las Vegas Raiders going to an indoor charity event without wearing facial coverings, the NFL has sent to each of its teams a memo detailing even more enhanced protocols for franchises to follow through with. Among them are two daily tests, including a point-of-care test that returns faster results. All players and coaches must also be wearing PPE and facial coverings on the practice field and gloves must be worn by every player except quarterbacks on their throwing hand. All meetings between teams and even positional breakdowns must be done virtually and there will be a prohibition against team or player gatherings away from the team facility.
Friday, October 2
SOCCER: MLS Postpones Second Rapids Game
The NFL was the first pro league on Thursday to announce a postponement due to COVID-19, followed by Major League Soccer later in the day. MLS, which had to postpone last week’s game for the Colorado Rapids against Sporting Kansas City after multiple players and staffers tested positive for Colorado, will also postpone the Rapids’ scheduled game on Saturday at the Portland Timbers.
The Athletic reported that two players and nine staffers on Colorado have tested positive for COVID-19 since last Thursday. MLS said that Saturday’s game will be rescheduled for November 4, a few days before the end of the regular season currently scheduled for November 8.
The Rapids closed their training facility and have not trained since September 24, when the first cases of COVID were confirmed. All players and staff with confirmed cases have entered self-isolation; those who have continued to receive negative results have remained in self-quarantine while following MLS health and safety protocols.
Between the postponements of games against Sporting KC and now Portland, Colorado — should it be allowed to play its next game as scheduled on October 7 — would have to play 10 games in 33 days to fulfill its regular-season schedule. The Rapids are also in the midst of a Western Conference playoff race; the team is in fifth place but only three points ahead of ninth-place Houston.
The postponed games involving Colorado are the first that MLS has had to move because of COVID-19 since it returned to playing matches in home markets. Both FC Dallas and Nashville SC had a run of positive tests ahead of the MLS is Back tournament that ultimately forced both teams to withdraw from the tournament in July that was held at a bubble environment at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida.
Thursday, October 1
BASEBALL: MLB Planning Fans for NLCS, World Series in Arlington
Having gone the entire season — such as it has been — without fans in attendance, Major League Baseball will have up to 11,500 fans in attendance at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, when the new home of the Texas Rangers hosts the National League Championship Series and World Series later this month.
The ballpark will have 10,550 fans spread throughout the ballpark with another 950 given suite seating; the total fans in attendance will be just under 30% of the total seating available at the stadium. Tickets are priced at $40-250 for the National League Championship Series and $75-450 for the World Series.
The National League Championship Series begins October 12 with the World Series starting on October 20 — the first time in baseball history that the Series will be held at a neutral site. But then again, this MLB season has seen a lot of firsts — from an abbreviated 60-game season to seven-inning doubleheaders, with extra-inning games seeing a runner placed at second to start each at-bat and now, after an expanded first round of the playoffs, having the rest of the postseason played at neutral sites with the American League going to National League ballparks in Los Angeles and San Diego while the NL goes to AL ballparks in Houston and Arlington.
Among the fan protocols that will be enforced at Globe Life Field is tickets in the seating bowl will be sold in groups of four, with no seats sold within 20 feet of where a player would be located either on the field, dugout or bullpen. Masks will be mandatory for fans except when eating or drinking at their seats and hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the venue. No bags will also be permitted except for medical reasons or diaper bags for infants or young children.
Wednesday, September 30
NFL: League Deals with Fallout After First Postponed Game
The National Football League is dealing with its first outbreak of COVID-19 on a team as a series of positive tests on the Tennessee Titans have forced the league to postpone its game scheduled for Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“The Steelers-Titans game, originally scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, will be rescheduled to allow additional time for further daily COVID-19 testing and to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel. Details on the new game date and time on either Monday or Tuesday will be announced as soon as possible,” the league said in a short statement.
The postponement follows positive tests among the Titans from four players and five team personnel members this week, forcing a closure of the team’s facilities until Saturday.
ESPN reported that the Minnesota Vikings, who played the Titans on Sunday, had no positive results in their latest round of testing. The Vikings’ facilities were closed on Tuesday ahead of the team’s game on Sunday at the Houston Texans, who were scheduled for that game to have fans in their stadium for the first time this season.
The postponement of a game this season comes on the heels of what were almost three full weeks of clean tests throughout the league, which has been diligent as well about coaches who were not wearing facial coverings on the sidelines with multiple fines already issued. The league continued its warnings to teams for failure to comply with pre-approved protocols on Wednesday.
NFL sent another strongly-worded memo to team executives, GMs and HCs today, urging all to be in compliance with game-day protocols (wearing masks). “We will address lack of compliance with accountability measures that may include…suspensions and/or forfeiture of draft picks.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 30, 2020
Tuesday, September 29
ANALYSIS: As NHL Completes Virus-Free Bubble, NFL and MLS Deal With Team Outbreaks
One of the broader debates about professional sports restarting in the COVID-19 era has been which is the best showcase to do it. While there have been leagues that have gone into the bubble to keep the threat of an outbreak away, others have tried to play in-market matches and do daily testing in the hopes of controlling spreads.
That dichotomy may not have been on a broader display than in the past 24 hours, in which the National Hockey League crowned its Stanley Cup champion in the Tampa Bay Lightning and simultaneously celebrated as a league the fact that its entire restart, held in bubble environments located in Toronto and Edmonton, did not have a single positive case over the course of months of action.
The numbers from the NHL were staggering: 130 games in 59 days and during the time that players entered the bubbles in Canada on July 26, the league conducted 33,174 tests without any cases of COVID-19.
“We did what we set out to do,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said after handing the Cup to the Lightning.
And on Tuesday morning, after three weeks of being able to have no interruptions during its schedule, the National Football League is now dealing with its first outbreak of multiple positives among one team. The league has confirmed that at least nine members between the active roster and team staff of the Tennessee Titans have tested positive in the past four days, which overlaps with the team’s game this past Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings.
As the league deals with its first outbreak on a team, two more franchises — Houston and Tampa Bay — announced plans to have fans on site for games this coming Sunday. The Texans announced that up to 13,300 fans will be allowed for the team’s game, scheduled against the Vikings, while the Buccaneers will have a limited number of season-ticket holders on hand against the San Diego Chargers with the goal of having up to 25% capacity for its October 18 home game, announced the Tampa Sports Authority.
Should those teams continue ahead with their plans, that would make 13 out of the league’s 32 teams either planning to this week have fans for the first time or having already had fans at home games. Only the Dallas Cowboys have had more than 16,000 fans on site for a game this season, allowing in 21,708 to its home game against the Atlanta Falcons on September 13.
While the Vikings have closed their team facility until further test results are revealed, the Titans have closed their practice facility until Saturday at the earliest — one day before the team is scheduled to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers. NFL Network has reported that the team is preparing to play the game at this point.
#Titans coaches have told players if they have to go without any work until Saturday, have a walkthrough then and play the #Steelers Sunday then that's what they'll have to do. No excuses. https://t.co/itr0rxkNWs
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 29, 2020
The NFL is — as of this moment — not planning to adjust its schedule for the weekend, but one pro sports league had to cancel a game this previous weekend: Major League Soccer postponed the game between Colorado and Sporting Kansas City after two players and 10 staff members of the Rapids tested positive for COVID-19. Colorado’s next game is scheduled to be October 3 against the Portland Timbers and start a stretch of five games for the team in a 15-day period; the status of that game is uncertain.
Monday, September 28
ANALYSIS: Fans Starting To Be Welcomed Back at Venues
Fans are slowly starting to come back to sports throughout the United States — in limited quantities.
In the NFL and Major League Soccer, pro leagues that have had teams play in front of fans, the biggest crowd has been 21,708 for the Dallas Cowboys’ home opener against the Atlanta Falcons. Of the eight NFL teams that have allowed fans into home games so far, only Dallas has had more than 16,000. Of the MLS teams that have allowed fans, none of them have allowed more than 5,000. In college football, only eight of the teams playing this season currently will allow 20,000 or more to attend.
The trends are similar throughout European sports as well. The French Open, which started on Sunday, was planning on having 5,000 spectators per day before government leaders said the tournament must be in line with the same measures other businesses have in place to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19, dropping the maximum spectators each day at Roland Garros to 1,000. That number is only the latest downsizing of a projected crowd — the French Tennis Federation in July said that it planned to have 20,000 fans per day, then revised it down to 11,500 at the start of September, then 5,000 two weeks before the tournament before the current number.
The maximum of 1,000 also is enforced at Ligue 1 soccer games in France plans from the league’s original plans for 5,000. Serie A in Italy also is allowed 1,000 for games and that is 1,000 more than will be allowed at English soccer games around the country, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed the planned return of fans to sport — scheduled for October 1 — indefinitely after a rise in COVID-19 infection rates. Spain’s La Liga also has decided to close off fans from games with plans for 30% capacity maximums enforced put on hold.
Then there is the Bundesliga in Germany, which has allowed crowds of 20% of stadium capacity with the caveat that clubs must get health and safety permission from their federal states first for the seats to be filled. That has led to 9,300 fans attending Borussia Dortmund’s season opener while games at clubs such as Bayern Munich remain off-limits to fans. For now, at least.
Friday, September 25
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Pac-12 Completes Power 5 Return to Play
There have been some historic comebacks in college football, but maybe nothing like what the sport overall has experienced from early August until now.
The Pac-12 Conference and Mountain West Conference both announced on Thursday that it would be changing its plans and having football seasons this fall instead of the spring, with the Mountain West starting an eight-game conference season on October 24 and the Pac-12 holding a seven-game conference season starting November 6.
The Pac-12’s season will include each team playing five divisional games plus one cross-division game before the conference championship game on December 18 – with the remaining teams not in the title game having a bonus cross-division game. The league also announced that winter sports would be allowed to begin before January 1, another reversal of an earlier decision and allowing its men’s and women’s basketball teams to participate in early-season tournaments.
The decision to resume competitions, the Pac-12 said, was based on updated Medical Advisory Committee recommendations.
“From the beginning of this crisis, our focus has been on following the science, data and counsel of our public health and infectious disease experts,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Our agreement with Quidel to provide daily rapid-results testing has been a game-changer in enabling us to move forward with confidence that we can create a safe environment for our student-athletes while giving them the opportunity to pursue their dreams. At the same time, we will continue to monitor health conditions and data and be ready to adjust as required in the name of the health of all.”
It would be remiss to also note the financial incentives for playing this fall. While a Pac-12 team hasn’t made the College Football Playoff since Washington at the end of the 2016 season, there was a $66 million base payout to each of the Power 5 conferences last year; ESPN reported that the league will not be ineligible for a payout this year even with a shorter schedule than its other Power 5 cohorts.
The Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences in August were the two Power 5 leagues that struck out on their own, announcing a postponement for football with the indication at the time that a spring season would be scheduled. Both conferences in their respective return to fall season have cited the availability of rapid daily testing to member schools.
Still, it was not that simple. While the Big Ten announced last week that it would have a fall season, the Pac-12’s initial stance was to point out that government restrictions in California and Oregon prevented six of the league’s schools from holding practices. But within 24 hours, governors from both states indicated that it was not the case and that schools would start preparing for a shortened season.
The Mountain West’s announcement — “subject to approval from state, county and local officials” the league said — indicated that the 8-game season will end with a championship game on December 19. As it stands, the only FBS conference that will still be having a spring season is the Mid-American Conference along with independent schools Connecticut, Old Dominion and New Mexico State. Reportedly, the MAC is working on an abbreviated season similar to what the MWC and Pac-12 will be doing.
If so, that would make November almost like a normal month in a college football season … should there be no outbreaks throughout each conference, which has been an issue. After all, the University of Houston’s scheduled game for Saturday against North Texas was canceled on Tuesday — marking the fifth consecutive week an attempt for the Cougars to open the season has been delayed.