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MLB to Start in May? NFL "Virtual" Draft, NBA Wants Rapid Testing

Written by:
Mary Montgomery
Published on:
Apr/07/2020

Major League Baseball and the players union are hopeful that the 2020 season can kick off in May based on a plan that came to light late Monday evening.

Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday by Major League Baseball and the players’ association.

Ideas are still in the early stage, and the Arizona option would have many obstacles to overcome, the people said.

Half of the MLB clubs hold spring training in Arizona, the other half in Florida.

Arizona’s advantage is 10 spring training ballparks plus the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field all within about 50 miles. Florida’s spring training ballparks are spread by as much as 220 miles.

“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment."
“It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy,” Boras added. "You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s it’s really good for a culture to have to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell informed all 32 NFL clubs that the 2020 NFL Draft would proceed in a fully virtual format in a memo sent out Monday obtained by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

League and club facilities are set to remain closed indefinitely, to ensure the NFL is in compliance with current regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore clubs were advised to prepare to conduct the draft outside of their facilities.

Below is the memo in full:

"In response to developing conditions and the advice of medical and public health experts, authorities at all levels of government have expanded the scope and extended the duration of orders requiring residents to shelter-in-place ("stay at home" orders) and closing non-essential businesses. These orders now cover the vast majority of residents and include every NFL home community. In some locations, these orders extend as far as June, and we should expect that this trend will continue.

"As you know, our offices have been closed since March 13 and all Club facilities have been closed since March 26. These steps were taken to protect our players and staffs, to model appropriate behavior, and to ensure competitive equity among all 32 clubs. Given current and expected conditions, and to ensure that we operate responsibly and in full compliance with current regulations, both League and Club facilities will remain closed indefinitely. We will reopen facilities when it is safe to do so based on medical and public health advice, and in compliance with government mandates.

"Because of these circumstances, Clubs have been advised to prepare to conduct the 2020 Draft entirely outside of their facilities and in a fully virtual format, with club personnel in separate locations and able to communicate with one another and Draft headquarters by phone or internet. We have reviewed this matter in the past few days with both the Competition Committee and CEC, and this will confirm that Clubs will conduct their Draft operations remotely, with club personnel separately located in their homes.

"We have made this decision for several reasons. All Clubs will not have access to their facilities, which is contrary to the fundamental equity principle that all clubs operate in a consistent and fair way. Moreover, we want all NFL personnel to comply with government directives and to model safe and appropriate health practices. Our staff will carry out its responsibilities in the same way, operating in separate locations outside of our offices. And after consulting with medical advisors, we cannot identify an alternative that is preferable from a medical or public health perspective, given the varying needs of clubs, the need properly to screen participants, and the unique risk factors that individual club employees may face.

"Accordingly, all clubs should dedicate their personnel and technology resources toward preparing for a fully virtual Draft, with personnel in separate locations. Our staff in Events, Football Operations, Information Technology and the Management Council will be in contact with each Club and remains fully available to answer questions or assist in your preparations. Our understanding is that many clubs are already well advanced in preparing for a virtual Draft and we are confident that all clubs can take the necessary steps to make the 2020 Draft a successful event.

"I have spoken to many of you in the past several days and recognize the challenges facing all of us. We are operating in an environment unlike anything we have experienced before, one that requires flexibility, patience, and cooperation. As we work through those challenges together, we should not lose sight of the magnitude of this global health crisis, of the extraordinary work of first responders, healthcare workers, and so many others, of the growing number of Americans in need of assistance, and of those who have lost family or friends to this virus.

"Please feel free to reach out if you have specific concerns or needs and thank you for all that you are doing to help your communities and employees during these uncertain times."

The league and its Players Association have been looking jointly into the viability of multiple blood-testing devices for the coronavirus, according to ESPN. Testing is seen as a key step in restarting the season at some point.

“While our foremost priority remains everyone’s health and well-being, the league office continues to evaluate all options for a return to play,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN.

The NBA will likely have to time to figure out all of the steps and what’s available to the league. Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday during an interview with Ernie Johnson on the NBA’s Twitter account that he does not expect any decisions to be made about the current season until at least May.

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

Will there come a time when the league won't be able to squeeze in any semblance of a postseason?

Greg Wyshynski: Yes, but the NHL is adamant that the time to make a decision on that is much further down the road. Keep in mind that the NHL has explored building availability through July and August for its teams. Also, don't underestimate how much the postponement of the Summer Olympics until 2021 opened a window for the NHL to play this summer. Not only does that clear scheduling conflicts for many television partners, but it also removes the almost insurmountable competition for fans' attention if the season were to relaunch in late July.

As for the playoffs, the league's first preference is to finish all or part of the remaining regular-season games, with around 189 games remaining on the schedule

"Depending on where you play those games and the format, we have modeling on how long it would take," Daly said Saturday on TFP's "The Hot Stove" on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio. "One scenario would be to play some regular-season games but not the full slate before you hit the playoffs. Obviously, you play as many games as you can play."

- Mary Montgomery, Gambling911.com

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