Two weeks after NBA shutdown, US sports landscape barren

by Jim SLATER
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Empty seats such as these at an Arizona pre-season training baseball stadium will remain the norm in US sports leagues until the coronavirus pandemic is solved

Imagine a Masters with fall foliage instead of spring flowers, an NBA Finals just weeks before the usual pre-season training camps and a neutral-site World Series in a warm vacation getaway.

Those are just some of the options being eyed by American sports event organizers planning for a return after the coronavirus pandemic eases.

Barren months are on the horizon just two weeks after the NBA launched a shutdown spree by every major US league when Utah's Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 just before a scheduled March 11 game.

The NBA was quickly followed by Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League.

There will be no Olympic trials in athletics, swimming and gymnastics in June with the Tokyo Games delayed to 2021. The Boston Marathon has been postponed to September. So has the Kentucky Derby horse racing classic.

The Masters and PGA Championship have been indefinitely postponed and preparations have been halted for June's US Open at Winged Foot.

Augusta National opens in October through the winter so an autumn date isn't impossible, although it's usually warmer and wetter than in April. Bright vivid flowers will be replaced by abundant pine needles under the course's towering trees.

"A Masters in the fall, October time, I think it would be pretty cool," world number one Rory McIlroy told PGA Tour Radio. "It would be a very different look than what you usually see at Augusta."

MLB's originally scheduled openers on Thursday, when all 30 clubs were set to start the campaign in a rite of spring for America's pastime, were postponed at least eight weeks.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended no mass gatherings until at least May 10 and ultimately how quickly the virus is conquered will decide when or if sport resumes in 2020.

MLB clubs and owners have privately agreed they could play regular-season games into October and stage the playoffs in November at neutral warm weather or domed venues, ESPN reported Wednesday.

- Thanksgiving & baseball? -

Baseball fans might be celebrating American Thanksgiving on November 26 with the World Series plus the usual NFL offerings.

The NBA is expected to re-evaluate its hiatus in two weeks, with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hoping for a mid-May return.

"Hopefully by the middle of May, we're starting to get back to normal and the NBA is playing games," Cuban told Dallas television station WFAA in an interview posted Tuesday.

"Maybe not with fans, but we're playing it because sports plays such an important role... people want something to be excited about.

"Sports is what we need right now. I think the NBA is ready to play that role."

If the NBA, still reeling from the shock death of retired star Kobe Bryant in a January helicopter crash, could resume by June, it could finish the season and have two months of playoffs end in August before the US television landscape is dominated by the NFL's scheduled September return.

"No one has perfect information right now, and so all decisions are tough, but if I had to guess -- based off the people I've talked to at the CDC and other places -- I would say that the over/under would be June 1, and I'm taking the under," Cuban said.

"I'm proud of the NBA and the way we've reacted. I think we've led the way, and hopefully will lead the way out of this."

MLS president Don Garber says his league, shut down two weeks into the 2020 campaign, hopes to complete a full season with a final delayed to mid-December.

"Once we're comfortable we can get the players with three to four weeks of training and we have the guidance that we can get crowds back into our stadiums, then we will then begin the relaunch of our season," Garber said.

The NHL plans an update in late April on its plans while most major boxing cards are off indefinitely and the next PGA Tour event still scheduled is May 21-24 at Colonial, four weeks before the US Open.

Empty seats such as these at an Arizona pre-season training baseball stadium will remain the norm in US sports leagues until the coronavirus pandemic is solved

World number one Rory McIlroy, playing a shot out of the flowers on the 13th hole at Augusta National, says a Masters in October would be "pretty cool"

Thew new $1 billion home arena of the Golden State Warriors remains empty like all NBA venues due to the coronavirus pandemic