The already-delayed professional sports seasons in North America could be on hiatus for significantly longer than first planned after federal officials said Sunday that they recommend all in-person events involving 50 people or more be called off for the next eight weeks.
That’s twice as long as the 30-day shutdowns that the NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer decided to put into place last week in response to the global coronavirus pandemic that has already made a deep impact on the U.S. financial markets and has been blamed for at least 64 deaths in this country.
Major League Baseball also was going with what essentially was a 30-day shutdown after canceling the rest of spring training and pushing back the start of regular season play for two weeks; opening day was to have been March 26.
But new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday night seem to suggest that sports in this country could for all intents and purposes be gone until May, if not later.
“CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers ... cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States. Events of any size should only be continued if they can be carried out with adherence to guidelines for protecting vulnerable populations, hand hygiene, and social distancing.”
The eight-week window easily exceeds what would have been the remainder of the NBA and NHL regular seasons, plus would cover about the first 25% of the MLB season — or roughly 40 games per team. It would also cast serious doubt on the ability to hold other major U.S. sporting events as planned, such as the Kentucky Derby in early May.
The NBA was already bracing to play games without fans in arenas, something that would have started late last week had a player -- Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz -- not tested positive for the virus, COVID-19. Utah teammate Donovan Mitchell and Detroit’s Christian Wood have tested positive since, but Gobert’s diagnosis was enough for the league to say that it was suspending play.