coronavirus and sports
September 15, 2020

Major League Baseball is on the bubble train.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Tuesday that MLB and the Players Association agreed Monday night on a plan for the 2020 postseason that would seemingly lower the risk of coronavirus outbreaks among the qualified teams.

The so-called bubble doesn't appear quite as extreme as the NBA's Orlando version since there will be travel involved as the playoffs progress — as earlier reports suggested, the first round series will be played at the higher seeds' ballpark, while the American League's division and championship series will be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and Petco Park in San Diego, and the National League teams will play at Minute Maid Park in Houston and Globe Life Field in Arlington, which will also host the World Series — but it sounds like there will be some strict measures in place.

While MLB hasn't officially released the details, The New York Post's Joel Sherman reports players on contending teams will have to quarantine at a hotel during the final seven days of the regular season, and there will be daily coronavirus testing. During that time, players' family members can stay with them and will be subject to the same restrictions as the team going forward. If a player's family chooses to join the bubble at a later date, they will be able to do so on the condition that they quarantine for a week in a separate hotel from the team. Tim O'Donnell

August 11, 2020

As reports indicated Monday, the Big Ten Conference is postponing all fall sports, including football, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The league's presidents and chancellors voted on the decision Tuesday. In a statement, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said "it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall." The conference is reportedly hoping to move the affected sports to the spring, ESPN reports.

At least one Big Ten school was disappointed by the news. The University of Nebraska's chancellor, athletic director, and head football coach released a statement expressing a desire to find a way for their student-athletes to compete — perhaps through an agreement with another conference — arguing the university's "rigorous safety protocols" and testing procedures actually make it the safest place for them.

Elsewhere, the PAC-12 is expected to follow suit, but the ACC and SEC are still trying to play this fall, ESPN reports. Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

August 11, 2020

President Trump's reasoning for why college football should happen this fall probably wouldn't satisfy a lot of folks in the medical and infectious disease research communities.

The president in an interview with Fox Sports on Tuesday said the season, which is in jeopardy because of the coronavirus pandemic, should be played because COVID-19 "just attacks old people," especially those with other health issues.

It is true that the coronavirus is much more deadly for older people with underlying conditions, but young people, even athletes, can get quite sick from the pathogen. Indeed, one of the main reasons the NCAA's so-called 'Power 5 conferences' are contemplating postponing play until the spring is because of a rare heart condition called myocarditis that's been linked to COVID-19. Boston Red Sox Eduardo Rodriguez, who contracted the virus, has been sidelined for the entire 2020 Major League Baseball season with the condition, for example. In other words, death is not the only risk. Tim O'Donnell

August 10, 2020

It appears college football players and conference commissioners are increasingly growing apart in their desire to play games this fall season.

Several players from all so-called Power 5 conferences — the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and PAC-12 — joined up for a video call Sunday to create a statement expressing their desire to get on the field, albeit with universal health and safety protocols in place, as well as the ability to opt-out and the guarantee of an extra year of eligibility regardless of whether they play. Mainly, the players said, they just want their voices heard.

But the commissioners of those conferences had their own meeting Sunday evening, and reports indicate they aren't so optimistic about a fall season, with the Big Ten seemingly leading the charge. "It doesn't look good," one Power 5 athletic director told ESPN, although it appears the conferences may try to move games to the spring, like the Mid-American Conference is planning to do.

Long-time sports personality Dan Patrick reported Sunday that multiple sources told him the Big Ten and PAC-12 are prepared to postpone their seasons Tuesday, while the Big 12 and ACC remain on the fence. If the reports are accurate, that leaves the SEC as the lone league trying to salvage something. Tim O'Donnell

August 8, 2020

The Mid-American Conference postponed all fall sports Saturday due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision makes the MAC the first FBS conference to forego a football season this year.

MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said "there are simply too many unknowns for us to put our student-athletes in situations that are not clearly understood." But it seems that financial costs were also a concern, especially since many of the schools would lose revenue from already-canceled games against major conference teams.

The league isn't giving up all hope of seeing its student-athletes get back on the field, though. The conference is looking into ways to move the affected sports — which also include men's and women's cross country, men's and women's soccer, field hockey, and women's volleyball — to the spring, and ESPN has reportedly said it's open to fitting televised games into its broadcast schedule next year.

It's unclear how the mid-major conference's move will affect the rest of the college football landscape, since most FBS conferences are opting to go ahead with modified schedules bereft of non-conference games, and the so-called Power Five Conferences (ACC, Big 10, SEC, PAC-12, and Big 12) have a lot more money at stake. But players have at least raised the possibility that they'd be willing to sit out the season if they aren't satisfied with health and safety protocols. The MAC's decision could put pressure on the other conferences to bolster their plans, if not call off the season outright. Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

August 4, 2020

Sure, it's a small sample size, but it appears professional athletes have at least one reason to enjoy playing in front of crowdless stadiums and arenas, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Since fans can't attend games because of the coronavirus pandemic, NBA and European soccer players have been performing in mostly empty venues, which has increased their shooting percentages. After a smattering of games, NBA players are shooting both free throws and corner threes more efficiently than they were before the pandemic paused the season back in March. At that point, the league average from the free throw line was 77.1 percent, a figure that's up to 80.6 percent in the Orlando bubble, per the Journal. Corner threes, meanwhile, are finding the bottom of the net 42.8 percent of the time now compared to the previous 38.9 percent.

The Brooklyn Nets' Joe Harris, a known sharpshooter, indicated the lack of fans probably has a greater effect on free throw shooting, since players are no longer facing a backdrop of fans when at the line. He added he doesn't usually notice fans around him when he fires threes from the corner, suggesting the statistical difference there could be more random.

European soccer leagues have a little bit more data to work with, as they've been back in action for a couple of months. In the English Premier League, free kicks were converted just 6 percent of the time before the pandemic, compared to 10 percent after the restart. The difference is more striking when looking at the raw totals. In 288 pre-lockdown matches, 16 goals were scored on free kicks. There have been 10 in the 92 played since teams returned to the pitch. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

July 27, 2020

Major League Baseball is just five days into the 2020 season and the league already has its first coronavirus-related game cancellation following an outbreak within the Miami Marlins clubhouse.

Eight more players and two coaches tested positive for the virus Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the organization to at least 14. Subsequently, the Marlins' home opener against the Baltimore Orioles has been canceled, and the club remains in Philadelphia where they just finished up a series against the Phillies.

The Phillies are reportedly quarantining staff who worked in the visitors clubhouse this weekend, and the New York Yankees — who will use that clubhouse this week — are bringing their own staff with them to help minimize the chances of transmission. But infectious disease expert Dr. John Swartzburg, who didn't think the Marlins should have played this weekend, earlier told The Athletic that the Phillies should test their players, coaches, and employees, every two weeks.

Ultimately, the Marlins outbreak leaves the team and the league in a precarious position. Every team has an expanded player pool to pull from this season in case of infections, but the outbreak has spread fast through the team, and the total number of infected personnel could still be higher, so it's possible the Marlins will be relying heavily on their minor leaguers going forward, if they play at all over the next couple of weeks. And if they can't, it's unclear how that would affect scheduling for teams that are supposed to play them.

Of course, the logistics are only secondary concerns compared to the health risk posed by the virus. Tim O'Donnell

July 8, 2020

The Ivy League on Wednesday suspended all fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic, becoming the first Division I conference to do so.

The decision affects football, soccer, field hockey, volleyball, and cross country, and could influence other leagues as they decide how to proceed with sports during the pandemic. The Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a statement its leaders did not think they could "create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk."

The New York Times reports all sports will be on hold until at least January, and the league has yet to determine whether fall sports might be moved to the spring. Princeton football Coach Bob Surace told the Times he's hopeful his team will be able to play in early 2021, but that can only happen if there are better treatments and people take social distancing measures seriously. Catherine Garcia

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