Collegiate & Professional sporting events suspended until further notice due to Coronavirus

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A few fans watch the second half of an NCAA college basketball game between DePaul and Xavier in the first round of the Big East men’s tournament Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in New York. Trying to avoid spreading the new coronavirus that has become a global pandemic, the NCAA on Wednesday decided the men’s and women’s Division I tournament games will be off-limits to the general public. The major college conferences followed the NCAA’s lead, one by one announcing their league tournaments would go on the rest of the week with restricted fan access. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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MLB delays opening day by at least 2 weeks because of virus

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball delayed the start of its season by at least two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak and suspended the rest of its spring training game schedule.

Opening day had been scheduled for March 26. The decision announced by Commissioner Rob Manfred on Thursday left open whether each team would still play a 162-game schedule.

“It’s unfortunate but I think it’s the proper measure we need to take now given the situation the country’s in and the world’s in,” New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. “It’s important to know that some things are bigger than baseball, bigger than sports at the moment. Once we’re able to hopefully get a hold on some things and get some questions answered we can figure out when things can continue.”

The announcement came while some spring training games in Florida were still in progress. MLB followed the NBA, NHL, MLS and college basketball tournaments in altering its schedule because of the pandemic. The minor league baseball season, which was to start April 9, also was being delayed.

“We’re ultimately all people, we all love the game of baseball but this is a far bigger issue for all of us right now, and we’re trying to work our way through it together,” Seattle Mariners owner John Stanton said at the team’s camp in Peoria, Arizona.

“I believe that this is going to be something that will have a lot more twists and turns to it. I don’t have a high degree of confidence that we will start on April 9,” he said.

MLB had continued to play into Thursday, two weeks before openers at Dodger Stadium, Camden Yards and other parks. But baseball changed course after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a morning news conference he had strongly recommended to local authorities and organizers that they limit all mass gatherings.

“MLB and the clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season schedule,” the baseball commissioner’s office said in a statement. “MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”

MLB had not had a mass postponement of openers since 1995, when the season was shortened from 162 games to 144 following a 7 1/2-month players’ strike that also wiped out the 1994 World Series. Opening day was pushed back from April 2 to April 26. Player salaries were reduced by 11.1% in 1995 because the games were lost due to a strike.

Players with big league contracts likely will be allowed to leave spring training and go home if they want to, but no decision on that was made public.

After a 32-day spring training lockout in 1990 caused opening day to be delayed a week until April 9, the season was extended by three days to allow each team a full 162-game schedule.

Baseball’s first strike lasted from April 1-13 in 1972, and the season started April 15. Teams played 153-156 games.

This year marked the earliest opening day other than for international games. As it stood, Game 7 of the World Series would’ve been Oct. 28.

The Texas Rangers had been looking forward to the opening of their new retractable-roof ballpark, Globe Life Field, first with an exhibition game against St. Louis on March 23. The formal opener had been scheduled for March 31 against the Los Angeles Angels.

If regular-season games are lost this year, MLB could attempt to reduce salaries by citing paragraph 11 of the Uniform Player’s Contract, which covers national emergencies. The announcement Thursday said the decision was made “due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“This contract is subject to federal or state legislation, regulations, executive or other official orders or other governmental action, now or hereafter in effect respecting military, naval, air or other governmental service, which may directly or indirectly affect the player, club or the league,” every Uniform Player’s Contract states.

The provision also states the agreement is “subject also to the right of the commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.”

Spring training games were suspended as of 4 p.m. EDT Thursday. Qualifying games for the 2021 World Baseball Classic also were called off.


NHL suspends season amid coronavirus pandemic

The NHL is placing its season on ice — for now.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the league will “pause” its season, effective immediately, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The move came one day after the NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive for COVID-19.

Bettman said there are hopes of resuming the season, holding the playoffs and still handing out the Stanley Cup.

“The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures,” Bettman said. “However, following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”

The NHL Players’ Association backed the decision, calling it “an appropriate course of action at this time” and adding: “The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere.”

The NHL is halting play with 189 games left in the season and uncertainty about how many more — if any — could be played before the playoffs, which typically begin in early April. A handful of European hockey leagues have already called off the remainder of their seasons.

“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions — including by self-quarantine, where appropriate,” Bettman said. “Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”

Numerous teams set to play road games were already finalizing plans to return home. The NHL preceded its decision by having all 31 teams cancel practices and pre-game skates.

It was difficult to determine what steps teams or players can take in regards to practicing or even working out during the hiatus. For now, Martin Frk’s go-ahead goal 4:41 remaining in the Los Angeles Kings’ 3-2 win over Ottawa will stand as the final tally of the 2019-20 season.

Following St. Louis’ 4-2 win at Anaheim, Blues coach Craig Berube was already wondereing how to prepare for the unscheduled and indefinite time off.

“You can practice as much as you want but without playing games it is difficult,” said Berube, who played 17 seasons in the NHL. “It’s a bigger issue than a hockey game. We have to deal with what we have to. We have to keep ourselves in shape and as sharp as we can if we start up again.”

Former Sabres captain Brian Gionta was supposed to be among the players honored on Friday night as part of Buffalo’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

“I think that’s the least of the worries,” Gionta said. “I think everybody is worried about their families, their loved ones, and the bigger picture in general, and all that other stuff is secondary noise. It’s something we haven’t seen in our lifetime and it’s much bigger than sports.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

Sports in Asia, Europe and now North America have been hit particularly hard by concerns about the virus and the cancellations came with dizzying speed this week The NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 His teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive. Major League Baseball pushed back opening day at least two weeks.

The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1893 with two exceptions: 1919, when the final was canceled after five games because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005, when the season was called off because of a lockout.

The NHL has not said any player has tested positive for COVID-19. The Washington Capitals, who used the same visiting locker room as the Jazz at Madison Square Garden in New York after them, said they “will continue to closely monitor the health of players, coaches and hockey operations staff.”

As late as Wednesday, the NHL did not have a league-wide declaration about limiting fan access to its games. The Columbus Blue Jackets became the first team to take that step, saying their games would go on with attendance and the San Jose Sharks then said their home games in March would go on with empty arenas.

Other hockey competitions are also being called off:

— The NWHL postponed its Isobel Cup final scheduled for Friday night in Boston but did not give a new date.

— A person with direct knowledge of discussions told The Associated Press a recommendation was made to the IIHF to cancel the men’s world championships in Switzerland. The IIHF has already canceled the women’s worlds, which were scheduled to open later this month in Nova Scotia.


NFL teams curtailing or stopping scouting operations

Clemson football player Tee Higgins lifts weights during NFL Pro Day Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

NFL teams are curtailing or completely stopping scouting operations as a safeguard against the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and New York Jets have ordered their scouts and assistant coaches to return home. Other teams, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, have cut back on scouting in what is usually a busy time for evaluating college players. The NFL draft is scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas.

“Due to health and travel concerns surrounding COVID-19, we have informed all of our scouts and coaches that they must return to their home bases and travel will be suspended until further notice,” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said in a statement Thursday. “The health and safety of our staff and players is our number one priority and we feel that these are the necessary precautions given the current circumstances.”

Soon after, the Vikings announced a similar decision.

“We continue to closely monitor coronavirus developments and maintain contact with the NFL, health officials and other local professional teams,” a team statement said. “Consistent with guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we have implemented precautionary procedures to protect staff and reduce the risk of acquisition and transmission inside TCO Performance Center (where the Vikings train).

“…. We are also suspending travel for our coaches and scouts until further notice and reviewing restrictions on large public gatherings in the near future. These are uncertain times, and our priority is to protect the health and safety of our players, coaches, staff and fans and do our part to minimize the spread of this virus.”

The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have instructed all non-essential team personnel to work remotely for a minimum of 14 days beginning on Monday. They also have suspended business travel and all non-essential travel for coaches and scouts for now.

The University of Michigan and Penn State on Thursday called off pro days. Other schools still plan to hold theirs — or make decisions on postponing or canceling them pending developments.

Alabama spokesman Josh Maxson said no final decision has been made but he expected the Crimson Tide’s pro day would be canceled.

NFL teams also are either limiting or eliminating facility visits by draft prospects. So are player agents.

“As an agent, it’s my strong recommendation that my players don’t travel for any team visits,” Mike McCartney tweeted. “With 12 or more games played, an All-Star game and Combine for most, teams have enough information to make an informed draft decision.”

NFL teams can bring in to their facilities for visits up to 30 players heading to the draft, though there are some exceptions for players from local schools.

Also Thursday, Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league’s main annual meetings have been canceled. They were scheduled for March 29-April 1 in Palm Beach, Florida, and were to include owners voting on potential rules changes.

Instead, those major decisions will be made at the May 19-20 spring meetings in Marina del Rey, California.

There has been little talk of postponing or canceling the draft, though staging it in Las Vegas seems a long shot. The NFL says it is monitoring the situation. Holding the draft without fans as a televised event in a studio or conference hall could be an option.


Jazz stars Mitchell, Gobert test positive; Gobert apologizes

Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) guards against Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz confirmed Thursday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, publicly saying that he is personally dealing with the pandemic that has temporarily shut down the NBA and other major sports leagues.

Later, his Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert — the first NBA player to test positive, which prompted the league to suspend the season — also confirmed his status and apologized. “I was careless and make no excuse,” Gobert said in an Instagram post.

Mitchell’s positive test was not known until early Thursday, the first full day of the NBA’s hiatus. Jazz players, staff and some beat writers covering the team were tested Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, where Utah was to play the Thunder in a game that was called off moments before tip-off once word about Gobert’s positive test was received.

Also Thursday, the Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors — teams that have all recently played against Gobert, Mitchell and the Jazz — all said that they were having some players and staff self-quarantine for as many as 14 days. The Cleveland Cavaliers, another team that has recently faced Utah, said they are not mandating quarantines yet but would if any of their players exhibit troubling symptoms.

“Thanks to everyone who has been reaching out since hearing the news about my positive test,” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post. “We are all learning more about the seriousness of this situation and hopefully people can continue to educate themselves and realize that they need to behave responsibly both for their own health and for the well being of those around them.”

Gobert was not among those behaving responsibly.

It started as a joke: Before leaving a media session at shootaround in Salt Lake City on Monday in advance of a game against Detroit that night, Gobert touched all the tape recorders that were placed before him on a table, devices that reporters who cover the Jazz were using.

“You know, there’s not much we can do right now,” Gobert said in that session when asked about how teams are dealing with the virus. And a minute or so later, before he ran out a side door, he touched all the recorders.

It isn’t so funny now — not with two Jazz players now having tested positive for the virus, and with a league on edge. It is not known if Gobert is responsible for Mitchell contracting the virus, or vice versa.

“I have gone through so many emotions since learning of my diagnosis…mostly fear, anxiety, and embarrassment,” Gobert wrote. “The first and most important thing is I would like to publicly apologize to the people that I may have endangered. At the time, I had no idea I was even infected.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the WHO, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Gobert became the center of why the league has been shut down for the foreseeable future after he became the first positive test. Among the immediate fallout:

— Utah’s game against Oklahoma City Wednesday night was canceled and the season was suspended.

— Washington, which played Utah in late February, said Thursday that it was having its players, coaches and basketball operations personnel self-quarantine for the next three to four days. The Wizards played at Utah on Feb. 29.

— Washington also played Tuesday against the New York Knicks, another recent opponent of the Jazz. The Wizards said players, coaches and basketball operations staff who have flu-like symptoms will be tested for coronavirus.

— The Raptors also said Thursday they are self-quarantining. “Our players, coaches and traveling staff have all been advised to into self-isolation for 14 days,” the team said, also confirming that Toronto players had been tested.

— The Celtics said in a statement they have been constant communication with our Massachusetts Department of Public Health officials. The Celtics played the Jazz on Friday. The Celtics believe it is unlikely that anyone from the team came into contact with Gobert or Mitchell while they were contagious.

But out of an abundance of caution the Celtics are having players and staff who were in close contact with Jazz players or who traveled to Milwaukee on Wednesday to self-quarantine through the weekend. Players and staff will then be tested for the virus.

— Gobert and Mitchell shared the court with 50 opposing players in those games, plus 15 referees. One of the refs was Courtney Kirkland, who was to work th e New Orleans-Sacramento game on Wednesday that got canceled because he had been on the court with for a Jazz game two nights earlier.

— Still unknown: How many ballboys, stat-crew employees, security guards, attendants and others were exposed by being around the Jazz or Gobert in recent days. Some Jazz reporters said they were getting tested for COVID-19; at least

“I’m sure I probably had contact with him,” Detroit’s Langston Galloway said.

The NBA shutdown could cost teams well into the hundreds of millions of dollars depending on how long the shutdown lasts. Those teams that have faced Gobert in recent days will likely face some testing. And at least two Jazz beat writers who were tested revealed Thursday that the results came back negative.

State health labs and many commercial labs can conduct tests on mouth swabs, and health officials estimate that the system could handle about 20,000 tests per day.

“I will do whatever I can to support using my experience as way to educate others and prevent the spread of this virus,” Gobert wrote. “I am under great care and will fully recover. Thank you again for all your support. I encourage everyone to take all of the steps to stay safe and healthy.”

The Jazz said Thursday that the team practice facility and Vivint Smart Home Arena —where the team plays games and other concerts and events take place — are being cleaned and sanitized. It remains very unclear when the Jazz will use either of those facilities again.


March Madness: NCAA Tournaments canceled due to coronavirus

The national office of the NCAA in Indianapolis is shown Thursday, March 12, 2020. The major conferences in college sports have canceled their basketball tournaments because of the new coronavirus, putting the celebrated NCAA college basketball tournament in doubt. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The NCAA canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on Thursday because of the spread of coronavirus, putting an abrupt end to the season less than a month before champions were to be crowned.

The decision comes a day after the NCAA announced the games that were scheduled to start next week would go on, but played in mostly empty arenas. That plan was scrapped as every major American sports league from the NBA to MLB put the brakes on its season due to concerns about the pandemic.

The NCAA canceled all of its spring championships in every sport, which include hockey, baseball and lacrosse.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the virus.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been played every year since 1939 when Oregon won the championship in Evanston, Illinois. It has grown through the years, both in size and stature. The three-week tournament generates almost a billion dollars in revenue each year for the NCAA and its hundreds of member universities and colleges.

It is now one of the biggest events in American sports, a basketball marathon of buzzer-beaters, upset and thrills involving 68 teams. The field for the men’s tournament was scheduled to be announced Sunday. The 64-team women’s field was to be revealed Monday.

Games would have started on the men’s side on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, then spreading out to eight sites from coast-to-coast from next Thursday through Sunday.

Instead, March Madness had taken on a different meaning as sports have virtually shutdown.

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