Executive Order allows professional sports to resume without live audiences
National Hockey League and National Basketball Association prepare to restart suspended seasons while Major League Baseball and National Football League hope to start 2020 campaigns
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Michigan took a step forward with regard to the resumption of professional sports within the state with Governor Gretchen Whitmer signing Executive Order 2020-133 on Thursday, June 25.
The order – subtitled as “Restarting professional sports” – allows “professional sports to resume, subject to COVID-19 safety plans that are consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Those sports must be played, however, without live audiences for the time being,” according to Executive Order 2020-133.
“No live audiences are allowed, except for staff of the facility at which a sporting event is held and media personnel reporting on, filming, or otherwise documenting the sporting event,” according to Executive Order 2020-133. “Participants maintain six feet of distance from one another to the extent compatible with the sporting activity.”
Will Michigan’s professional sports teams resume their seasons soon? Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many unknowns with regard to pro sports. Leagues were in different aspects of their seasons when the coronavirus started to force shutdowns in March of 2020. The National Football League’s 2019 season was finished. The 2019-2020 campaign for the National Basketball Association was approaching the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs. The National Hockey League’s 2019-2020 regular season was in progress. For Major League Baseball, spring training was in progress for the 2020 season.
For the NHL, the 2019-2020 regular season started on October 2 and it was scheduled to end on April 4, according to www.nhl.com. The NHL is currently working on a restart to its season using a multi-phase Return to Play Plan. Several NHL players have tested positive for the coronavirus during the current pandemic.
Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan recently allowed “limited workouts with small groups at their team facilities,” according to the NHL.
“Since NHL clubs were permitted to open their training facilities on June 8, all players entering these facilities for voluntary training have been subject to mandatory testing for COVID-19. Through (June 19), in excess of 200 players have undergone multiple testing. A total of 11 of these players have tested positive. All players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols,” according to www.nhl.com.
“The NHL, which paused its season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, announced 10 locations are in the running to be one of two hub cities – one for the 12 participating Eastern Conference teams and one for the 12 Western Conference teams,” for the upcoming playoffs, according to the NHL.
The league is considering three possibilities in Canada – Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto – and “seven United States locations: Chicago, Dallas, Columbus, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh,” according to the NHL.
“Under the 24-team Return to Play Plan, the Stanley Cup Qualifiers will have the top four teams in each conference, based on regular-season points percentage, play a round-robin to determine seeding. The other eight teams in each conference will be paired in four best-of-five series, with the winners playing the four round-robin teams in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” according to www.nhl.com. “With 189 regular-season games remaining at the pause, the NHL and the (NHL Players’ Association) decided it was necessary to have a play-in round for teams that had a legitimate chance of making the playoffs. The result will be 16 teams playing best-of-five series to qualify for the playoffs, with the top eight teams (four from each conference) receiving byes for the play-in round.”
The NHL is looking to continue its progress toward a restart with training camps in July, but there are still many unknowns.
“Phase 3 of the Return to Play Plan, which is the start of training camp, can begin July 10 provided medical and safety conditions allow and the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association reach an agreement on resuming play. The NHL has not announced when the qualifiers will begin,” according to the NHL.
The Detroit Red Wings are one of seven teams that will not return to the ice for the 2019-2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Red Wings had a league worst record of 17-49-5 when the regular season was paused in March, according to Sporting News.
The NBA also paused its regular season in March due to coronavirus concerns. The National Basketball Association’s plan to resume play involves having the top 22 teams continue the 2019-2020 season at one site in Florida.
“The 2019-2020 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. On June 4, the NBA’s Board of Governors approved a competitive format to restart the 2019-2020 season with 22 teams returning to play and a tentative start date of July 30. The Board’s approval is the first formal step among many required to resume the season and the NBA is working to finalize a comprehensive season restart plan with the National Basketball Players Association,” according to the NBA. “The 2019-2020 restart is contingent on an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to use Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, as a single site for a campus for all games, practices, and housing for the remainder of the season.”
It is unknown if the NBA’s current plan will proceed as scheduled due to recent COVID-19 spikes in the state of Florida.
Over the course of the pandemic, several NBA players have tested positive for the coronavirus, and some players have announced they will not participate in the restart of the 2019-2020 campaign.
The Detroit Pistons, with an overall record of 20-46 when the season was suspended in March, will not be a part of the restart.
According to the NBA, the 22 teams scheduled to play in the rest of the season are: (from the Eastern Conference) Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards; (from the Western Conference) Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns.
“The returning teams are the 16 teams in current playoff positions and the six teams that are currently six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their respective conferences,” according to www.nba.com.
The plan has teams playing in eight “seeding games” before the start of the postseason, according to the NBA.
The playoff format would be the same as in recent years.
“Once the 16-team playoff field is set, the NBA playoffs would proceed in a traditional conference-based format featuring the usual best-of-seven series in the first round, conference semifinals, conference finals, and The Finals,” according to the NBA.
“The NBA and the NBPA are working with infectious disease specialists, public health experts, and government officials to establish a rigorous program to prevent and mitigate the risk related to COVID-19, including a regular testing protocol and stringent safety practices,” according to www.nba.com.
Major League Baseball was beginning spring training when the pandemic started to force shutdowns. After several rounds of negotiations, the league recently announced its plan to resume the 2020 baseball season. Sixty regular season games, then playoffs.
“Major League Baseball anticipates beginning its 2020 regular season approximately one month from (June 23), on July 23 or July 24,” according to www.mlb.com.
“The announcement follows confirmation that the MLB Players Association has accepted the health and safety protocols that will guide MLB’s return to play and that players will be able to report for training by July 1. The health and safety of players and employees will remain MLB’s foremost priorities in its return to play. MLB is working with a variety of public health experts, infectious disease specialists, and technology providers on a comprehensive approach that aims to facilitate a safe return,” according to MLB.
“MLB has submitted a 60-game regular season schedule for review by the Players Association. The proposed schedule will largely feature divisional play, with the remaining portion of each club’s games against their opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (i.e., East vs. East, Central vs. Central and West vs. West), in order to mitigate travel. The vast majority of Major League clubs are expected to conduct training at the ballparks in their primary home cities,” according to MLB.
The Detroit Tigers, according to www.mlb.com, “will report to Detroit (this) week and work out at Comerica Park. It will be the first time the team has spent a Spring Training in Detroit since the American League’s inaugural season in 1901.”
The National Football League was in its offseason in March when the COVID-19 pandemic started to affect American sports. The NFL conducted its annual draft in late April through video methods instead of having a live ceremony.
The NFL is planning to begin training camps in July.
“The NFL has advised teams that training camps are expected to begin as scheduled July 28 with rookies and selected players permitted to report earlier,” according to www.nfl.com. “Talks are ongoing with the NFLPA over specifics.”
Like the other leagues, the NFL has had players and coaches who have tested positive for COVID-19 during the past several weeks.
It is unknown whether the 2020 regular season will begin as scheduled. The first NFL game of the 2020 campaign – Texans at Chiefs – is slated for Thursday, September 10.
The season opener for the Detroit Lions – a home game vs. the Chicago Bears – is scheduled for Sunday, September 13.
The NFL’s traditional preseason opener – the Hall of Fame Game – has been cancelled for 2020. The contest – Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys – was slated for August 6.
The next NFL preseason games are scheduled for Thursday through Sunday, August 13 through 16.
Every year, the Hall of Fame Game preceeds the NFL’s Hall of Fame enshrinement event. This year’s Hall of Fame ceremony has been postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the NFL.