Every day brings more hard decisions for the four major professional sports leagues as they attempt to deal with the coronavirus.
If told by state municipalities they won’t be allowed to admit fans or can’t stage events, the MLB, NHL, NBA and MLS are all toying with the idea of playing games at either neutral sites or the city of their opponent, providing they are allowed to do so by local officials.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday MLB’s preference would be to switch its games to the visiting team’s site.
This has become a major dilemma in MLB in part because Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington is planning on banning gatherings of more than 250 people in the Seattle area, which has seen 24 people die from the virus.
The season starts March 26 and one of the games is Texas at Seattle. On Wednesday, the Mariners announced they would not play any home games through the end of March. The Mariners-Texas will play a four-game set followed by a three-game series with the Twins from March 30 through April 1.
The Mariners said they’re working with the commissioner’s office in regard to what to do next.
“I hope it doesn’t turn into us missing games or pushing scheduled games back,” Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis told the Associated Press.
A source told The Associated Press that MLB favors playing with fans in the stadium. Obviously, the logistics of flipping home and road dates is easier to do at the start of the season. Return series can always be switched in the other direction.
If flip-flopping can’t be figured out, the next choices would be either spring training sites or Minor League stadiums.
As of Wednesday, Texas GM Jon Daniels said neither MLB or the Mariners have contacted his organization about switching sites for the first series. The Rangers are due to open their new stadium, Globe Life Field, against the Los Angeles Angels on March 31.
“I just live, man,” Bryce Harper told the New York Times. “I don’t worry about a disease or a virus or anything; I live my life. I’m doing everything the same. I’m shaking people’s hands, I’m high-fiving them.”
In the NBA, the board of governors is scheduled to have a conference call with commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday. On top of that agenda is also the proposal to move games to league cities spared from any coronavirus outbreaks.
According to ESPN, if fears about the virus causes a team to move from its city for a long time – as may the case in Cleveland, New York and Los Angeles – talks have been held about moving games to the away opponent’s arena or neutral cities and sites.
The NBA is also thinking about banning fans from its games or even suspending its schedule for as long as necessary. The problem is, no one seems to know how present the virus is in many places because of the lack of testing kits.
In fact, ESPN reported Wednesday that the Golden State Warriors have already decided to play home games, at least for now, without fans in attendance after the San Francisco Health Office prohibited the staging of events with over 1,000 people in attendance. The first game affected would be Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets.
Once the governors talk to the commissioner, another call will take place with general managers and team presidents on Thursday.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has recommended indoor teams play without fans for the immediate future. The Cleveland Cavaliers are now embarking on a six-game road trip and won’t play another home game until March 24.
LeBron James said earlier this week he likely would not play if the NBA decided not to allow fans into their arenas. But by Wednesday, he had changed his mind.
“I’d be disappointed,” James said. “But at the same time, you got to listen to the people that’s keeping track of what’s going on. And if they feel it’s best for the safety of the players, the safety of the franchise, the league to mandate that, then we’ll all listen to that.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has barred league employees from overseas business travel. Those who make personal trips to nations dealing with infection will be quarantined out of the office for two weeks if symptoms arise.
“What we can do is take it a day at a time and see what the experts in the field are telling us,” Bettman said.
Bettman did tell the Associated Press he had not gotten to the point of ordering games played without fans.
In the MLS, a task force is monitoring the situation, but all sports teams in Los Angeles County – the MLS has two, the Galaxy and LAFC – have been warned about possible cancelations or plans to play without fans after a health emergency was declared.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has urged the state’s 40 million residents Tuesday to avoid sporting events.
Santa Clara County has already banned public gatherings of more than 1,000 people, threating the status of San Jose Sharks NHL games. The MLS has not decided if the Earthquakes home game on March 21 against Sporting Kansas City will be postponed or played in an empty stadium.