Local Sports

Bears Offering Season Ticket Holders Refunds

The Chicago Bears are offering full refunds to season ticket holders because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Season ticket holders who choose that option will be able to renew their seats for the 2021 season, the team says. The Bears are not sure how many fans will be allowed at Soldier Field this season.

 

Chicago is scheduled to open at Detroit on Sept. 13 and host the New York Giants a week later. The Bears also have home preseason games against Cleveland and San Francisco on Aug. 15 and 29.

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Illini Sports Beat Writer Weighs In On Coronavirus Impacts on Return to Sports

Keeping athletes healthy by following the basic protocols is how the return to sports in college is going to work.

 

That's according to Bob Asmussen who follows Illinois sports for the Champaign News-Gazette and illinihq.com. He indicates a return to sports in Champaign can be successful by following the most basic protocols.

 

 

There is concern around the college football community about the transmission of this virus because of the constant contact nature of the sport. Asmussen says college football is going to give the season a try but does not get the sense there's any sense of the season getting canceled.

 

 

Asmussen says the best thing for the athletes is for them to be on campus with the top-of-the-line medical facilities and a controlled environment rather than any issues they may encounter at their homes.

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Cubs Announce Two Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus

Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer says two staff members have COVID-19 and were experiencing mild symptoms.

 

Hoyer would not reveal their names. He says one was tested because “a friend of a friend had it and he’d been in contact with that person,” and the other was “out of an abundance of caution.”

 

Hoyer says no players have tested positive or opted out of this season because of concerns about the coronavirus, nor have any coaches.

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IHSA Moving Forward With State Series for Girls Wrestling

The IHSA is moving forward with an individual state series for girls wrestling. Lena-Winslow head wrestling coach Kevin Milder says the numbers are growing in the sport.

 

 

Milder serves on the IHSA wrestling advisory committee. The girls state wrestling tournament will first be offered in the 2021/2022 school year.

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Denny Hamlin Wins at Pocono

Dennyh Hamlin topped Kevin Harvick on Sunday night to win the second Cup race of the weekend at Pocono Raceway and flip the result of the opener. The 1-2 finish out of each driver is a clear sign two of the best drivers in the game are poised again to make a championship push.

 

Hamlin has four wins this season for Joe Gibbs Racing and Harvick has three for Stewart-Haas Racing as they start to separate themselves from the rest of the field.

 

Hamlin is racking up milestones as he chases his first NASCAR Cup championship. Hamlin has 41 victories to move to 19th on NASCAR’s career list and his sixth win at Pocono matched Jeff Gordon for most at the 2½ mile tri-oval track.

 

Hamlin raced to his fourth victory of the season to cap a wild, marathon day of racing at the track, with three NASCAR races and nightfall in the finale. Pocono doesn’t have lights -- but the pit road numbers were lit up and glowed as Hamlin won for the second straight year at Pocono.

 

Hamlin had a late vibration in his No. 11 Toyota on Saturday that hindered his attempt to catch Harvick down the stretch. About 25 hours later, Hamlin surged past Harvick and built a nearly 3-second lead once the SHR driver got caught up in lapped traffic.

 

The Daytona 500 champion’s victory capped the first NASCAR tripleheader at one track. The race was delayed by lightning and rain, as much a part of Pocono as a JGR driver taking the checkered flag. Gibbs’ roster has six of the last seven winners at Pocono.

 

They ran six laps before the race was red-flagged nearly 51 minutes because or rain. NASCAR ran several pace laps before the race finally went green around 6:15 p.m. It was a race against darkness to complete the full 350 miles.

 

Harvick won Saturday’s race and put the brakes on a burnout — he had to save that engine for another run in the same No. 4 Ford. The starting lineup was inverted for Sunday’s race so Harvick started 20th.

 

Erik Jones was third, Chase Elliott fourth and Aric Almirola was fifth.

 

The rain wreaked havoc with the third NASCAR race of the day at Pocono. Brandon Jones opened the day with a win in the Truck Series race and Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity race. Pocono became the first track in NASCAR history to hold three national series races on the same day.

 

NASCAR’s hope to capitalize on being about the only major sport to run live every week with sports on pause in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has been besieged by weather issues. Sunday marked the ninth race out of 15 this season with a weather delay and three have been moved a full day. It’s hard to keep TV viewers interested when its a parade of Air Titans instead of a mad dash to the checkered flag.

 

Pocono is notorious for rainy weekends and in 2016 had two Cup races and an IndyCar race all washed out and run on Monday. The “Need Help or Info?” signs around the track went unneeded as the only thing in the grandstands was rain.

 

It put yet another damper on seven-time Jimmie Johnson’s farewell season. Johnson, a three-time winner at Pocono, was honored by the track over the weekend. Pocono painted “Jimmie” on one side of the start/finish line, added a painted “48 Jimmie Johnson” rock to their infield collection of race legends, and his two young daughters gave the command for the driver’s to start their engines. He finished 16th.

 

Chase Briscoe held off Ross Chastain in overtime to win the crash-filled Xfinity Series at Pocono Raceway, the second of three NASCAR races at the track on Sunday.

 

Brandon Jones won a two-lap sprint to the finish to win the wreck-filled Truck Series race, the first of three NASCAR races Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

 

Harvick snapped an 0-for-38 drought at Pocono, taking the checkered flag Saturday at one of two tracks where victory had eluded him.

 

Harvick won the first of two NASCAR Cup races in front of no fans this weekend at Pocono and will start 20th on Sunday with the field set by inverting the lead-lap finishers.

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DJ Holds On for Win at The Travelers

Dustin Johnson won the Travelers Championship on Sunday to end a long drought and extend his career-long season victory streak to 13.

 

Johnson closed with a 3-under 67 for a one-stroke victory over Kevin Streelman at fan-free TPC River Highlands. Johnson last won in Mexico City in March 2019.

 

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus each won in 17 consecutive years. Johnson failed to win in 2014, but is given credit for winning in the 2013-14 season from his victory in the fall of 2013 in Shanghai. The tour changed to a wraparound season in 2013.

 

Johnson tapped in for par on the par-4 18th, raised his ball to acknowledge the smattering of applause from course workers, officials and reporters, the only in-person witnesses allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

He finished at 19-under 261 for his 21st PGA Tour title.

 

Streelman also shot 67.

 

Streelman, who made seven straight birdies to win at TPC River Highlands in 2014, had a 37-foot birdie try on 18 that ended up just short and right.

 

He was two strokes behind Johnson on the 17th fairway when the weather horn blew for an hour-long storm delay.

 

Johnson came out of the delay and hit his tee shot on 16 into a greenside bunker. His second shot went well past the hole and made bogey to cut his lead to a stroke.

 

Johnson was at 19 under when his tee shot on the par-4 15th went left and came inches from going into the signature lake that surrounds the finishing holes. His first pitch didn’t make it to the green, and he hit the second to 4 feet to save par.

 

Mackenzie Hughes, who shot a first-round 60, had a 67 to tie for third with 23-year-old Will Gordon at 17 under. Hughes made 48-foot birdie putt on 17, which he started well left of the hole and watched as turned right to the flag. He finished the round with a much straighter 43-foot birdie putt on 18.

 

Gordon, who had no status on either the PGA Tour or the Korn Ferry Tour, had seven birdies in a 64. The finish was just enough to give him a special temporary card and unlimited exemptions for the rest of the season.

 

Johnson started the day two strokes behind Brendon Todd, and took the lead after three straight birdies put him at 20 under after 10 holes.

 

Todd shot a 75 to tie for 11th at 13 under. He made a 7 on the par-4 12th.

 

Bryson DeChambeau shot a 68 to tie for sixth at 15 under.

 

Top-ranked Rory McIlroy tied for 11th at 13 under after a 67.

 

Phil Mickelson, playing his first tournament since turning 50, followed up his opening rounds of 64 and 63 with two 71s to finish at 11 under.

 

There were seven COVID-19-related withdrawals from the Connecticut event, with two positive tests among players. Cameron Champ withdrew Tuesday and Denny McCarthy had a positive test on Friday.

 

The PGA Tour is making some tweaks to its coronavirus policies as a result of this week’s issues. Players, caddies and anyone else considered “inside the bubble” will have to test negative before being allowed on the grounds of the Detroit Golf Club for the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

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Clinton High School Updating Outdoor Facilities

Changes to the Clinton High School track and varsity baseball field are among the upgrades happening this summer at the outdoor complex.

 

Athletic Director Matt Koeppel says the baseball field is getting upgraded after alterations at the JV field and the varsity softball field in recent years. Additionally, the track is getting an upgrade.

 

 

Koeppel believes it was time to upgrade the track at the high school and the baseball fields at the high school are going to be as nice as any in the area.

 

 

Koeppel indicates there will be a new scoreboard coming to the JV baseball field thanks to some community support. Koeppel anticipates an announcement on that coming in the days and weeks ahead.

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Clinton HS AD Wants Students to Get Athletic Physicals Taken Care of Now

Practices for fall sports are coming up right around the corner as district athletic directors and coaches await guidance from the IHSA, who is awaiting guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

 

Athletic Director Matt Koeppel says practices for junior high sports could be underway as soon as next month and now is the time to get those sports physicals updated.

 

 

According to Koeppel, students who do not have an updated physical when practices begin cannot participate until they have one.

 

 

Some physicians have a waiting list to get patients in, so Koeppel stresses it is important to make that call to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

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Illinois To Keep Athlete Coronavirus Status Quiet

Universities around the country are reporting numerous student-athletes that are testing positive to the coronavirus as they return to campus to begin summer and fall practices.

 

The University of Illinois has brought back its students-athletes and the university plans to keep quiet the status of the testing of their athletes. Bob Asmussen covers Illinois sports at the Champaign News-Gazette and indicates until games begin, the health status of the athletes will be unknown.

 

 

Asmussen believes it was inevitable student-athletes were going to get the coronavirus and while the numbers initially being reported are shocking, as time goes one, he believes the reactions will be less shocking and it will be a regular part of their summer practices.

 

 

Asmussen worries about the health of older coaches and staffers at the University but is confident the school's leadership has a good plan in place to keep the athletes, coaches, and support staff safe and healthy as everyone looks forward to the return of college football. 

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Clinton Athletics Ready To Practice Fully; When Allowed

As much of the state anticipates moving to Phase 4 in the Governor's "Reopen Illinois" plan, many questions remain about high school sports - even for local administrators.

 

Clinton Athletic Director, Matt Koeppel, was a guest Monday morning on the WHOW Morning Show.  He says practices under the current guidelines are going well, but how school sports will advance in the next re-opening phase is still unknown. 

 

 

Last week, a "phase 2" proposal from IHSA made the rounds, but official word has yet to come from the state.  Koeppel is aware of the proposal, and explains that all sports but football should hopefully be good to begin sport specific practices.

 

 

Koeppel says football is different because of the numbers in the program.  He suspects the football squad may need to be split up if group limitations of 50 or fewer are implemented.

 

 

Despite the current restrictions, Koeppel says both players and coaches are happy to be back to work.

 

 

No matter the guidelines set forth by the state, Koeppel stressed that Clinton Athletics will be prepared to adapt and proceed as safely as possible for their student athletes.

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Cubs Agree to Terms With First Round Pick Howard

The Chicago Cubs have signed first-round draft pick Ed Howard to a minor league contract that includes a $3,745,500 bonus.

 

Howard went No. 16 overall in the June 10 amateur draft. The 18-year-old shortstop was a prep star at Mount Carmel High School on Chicago’s South Side. He also started for the 2014 Jackie Robinson West Little League team that advanced to the finals of the Little League World Series.

 

The Cubs announced the contract Monday. Howard received a signing bonus equal to his assigned slot value.

 

Howard, who had committed to the University of Oklahoma, hit .421 with three homers in 35 games during his junior year with Mount Carmel. His senior season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Howard is the first Illinois high school position player to go in the first round since Jayson Werth in 1997.

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Blaney Wins Wild Finish at Talladega

Ryan Blaney held onto the lead after a restart with two laps to go Monday, earning his second straight win at Talladega Superspeedway on a day that began with NASCAR drivers throwing their support behind Bubba Wallace.

 

Blaney nipped Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the finish line by .007 seconds for his fourth win and first since Talladega in October, albeit this time before a mostly empty venue. It was a race marked by support for Wallace instead of another Big One at Talladega, though there was mayhem behind Blaney on the final lap and he also pushed Erik Jones into the wall near the finish.

 

Aric Almirola spun at the end and crossed the line almost backward.

 

Ford has now won nine of the last 10 Cup races at Talladega, and all three Team Penske drivers have won this season.

 

The racing was overshadowed by an extraordinary act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only Black driver. Dozens of drivers pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the field before Monday’s race as FBI agents tried to find out who left a noose in his garage stall over the weekend.

 

He was emotional after spending time in the top five before running short on fuel and finishing 14th, slapping hands with a group of mostly African-American fans.

 

The race began with Martin Truex Jr. on the pole, and Tyler Reddick won the first stage, which ended in a weather caution that lasted 58-plus minutes.

 

The crowd had dwindled significantly from Sunday, when up to 5,000 fans were allowed into Talladega — only the second race with fans since NASCAR returned from the pandemic-forced shutdown. 

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Webb Simpson dominates late for seventh PGA Tour win

A loaded leaderboard that looked destined for a photo finish and potentially a Monday playoff finally saw a leader emerge from the pack, and that leader also happens to be one of the five best golfers in the world right now. Webb Simpson (-22) birdied five of his last seven holes at the 2020 RBC Heritage on Sunday to land a 7-under 64 and one-stroke win over Abraham Ancer.

 

The last 100 minutes of the tournament was a tour de force. Simpson and Ancer traded absolute missiles from tee to green, all while Daniel Berger, Tyrrell Hatton, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka and Joaquin Niemann weaved in and out of the lead late in the day.

 

It felt as if Simpson's birdie barrage was coming at some point, but after he played the first 11 holes in just 2 under on a day where shooting 67 seemed pedestrian, you had to wonder if it would come too late. Then the floodgates flung open. Simpson gained three strokes on the field with his putter over the last seven holes (again, five of them birdies) and secured his second victory of the season.

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Rob Manfred offers MLBPA 2021 concessions as MLB players wait to vote on 60-game proposal

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are still looking to come to a deal on the number of games for the 2020 season. The MLBPA was originally set to vote to accept or reject a proposal for a 60-game season with full prorated salaries this weekend, but it's unclear on when that vote will happen.

 

Two developments have caused the players to hit pause on voting. The first is the coronavirus pandemic. There was a COVID-19 outbreak on Friday that caused the league to order all spring training sites closed and disinfected. The players want to gather more information about the league's coronavirus protocols.

 

Also on Sunday, commissioner Rob Manfred sent a letter to MLBPA chief Tony Clark offering to remove expanded playoffs and a universal DH (both features of MLB's proposal) for the 2021 season if a 2020 season is not completed.

 

Reports confirmed that no vote was taken by the players as of Sunday afternoon.

 

 Reports indicate that the letter from Manfred was received by the players during a Sunday union meeting. It's unclear if this was due to any pushback from the players or if they simply wanted to process the new information.

 

Meanwhile, Manfred's letter is a concession to the players who would be worried about losing leverage in CBA negotiations after the 2021 season. 

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IHSA Awaiting Approval from IDPH for Next Step in Return To Sports Plan

The Illinois High School Association has sent off its proposal for the second phase of a return to sports plan involving fall practices and competitions.

 

Executive Director Craig Anderson tells Regional Radio News says things are still uncertain because they have not received approval from the Illinois Department of Public Health, however, the 'Stage 2' guidelines have been sent off to the IDPH for approval.

 

 

Anderson hopes to have all fall sports but the situation will likely dictate restrictions in place. He explains they are looking to receive guidance and approval for expanded training opportunities for their athletes and coaches.

 

 

Several states around Illinois have reopened their youth programs and in Iowa, their high school baseball and softball seasons are returning. Anderson keeps close tabs on how those are being operated and says he has a good working relationship with other directors to help in formulating the IHSA plans. 

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Still Hope for Baseball

After days of angry exchanges over money between Major League Baseball and the players’ association, Commissioner Rob Manfred started to doubt whether there would be a 2020 season and said as much on national television.

 

He then called union head Tony Clark and offered to fly from New York to Arizona to meet for the first time in three months. They spoke one on one for several hours Tuesday in a room at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale and emerged with what MLB considered a framework for each leader to sell to his side.

 

MLB thought it had terms to play the pandemic-delayed season in empty ballparks, not just a proposal.

 

The union said nothing publicly and staff conferred with the eight-man executive subcommittee and other players. Some on the players’ side considered the framework merely another plan subject to more bargaining.

 

The framework includes full prorated pay, even if games are played in empty ballparks, people familiar with the details told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because details were not announced.

 

Each team would play 60 games over 10 weeks starting July 20, though a Sunday opener on July 19 could be added. The framework would result in players receiving about 37% of their salaries and would come to roughly $1.48 billion from salaries originally totaling $4 billion.

 

Baseball’s postseason would expand from 10 teams to 16 this year, and the two wild-card games would transform into eight best-of-three series. That would create a minimum of 14 new playoff games whose broadcast rights could be sold, and MLB would have the option of 14 or 16 postseason teams in 2021.

 

MLB would guarantee a $25 million postseason players’ pool, creating postseason shares for players in the event no tickets are sold.

 

The designated hitter would expand to all games for the first time, also involving games between National League teams, for 2020 and 2021.

 

The luxury tax would be suspended for 2020, saving money for the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, and Cubs.

 

Both sides would contribute jointly to initiatives for social justice.

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Probe Shows Pilot in Helicopter Crash That Killed NBA Star Kobe Bryant May Have Become Disoriented

The pilot of the helicopter that crashed in thick fog, killing Kobe Bryant and seven other passengers, reported the aircraft was ascending when it actually was heading for the ground, federal investigators said in documents released Wednesday.

 

Ara Zobayan radioed to air traffic controllers that he was climbing to 4,000 feet (1,220 meters) to get above clouds on Jan. 26 when, in fact, the chopper was plunging toward a hillside where it crashed northwest of Los Angeles, killing all nine people aboard.

 

The report by the National Transportation Safety Board said Zobayan may have “misperceived” the angles at which he was descending and banking, which can happen when a pilot becomes disoriented in low visibility.

 

One report stated quote - “Calculated apparent angles at this time show that the pilot could have misperceived both pitch and roll angles. During the final descent the pilot, responding to (air traffic control), stated that they were ‘climbing to four thousand."

 

Cox said quoted - “He is not the first person to experience it. It’s a significant cause of accidents.”

The 1,700 pages of reports do not offer a conclusion of what caused the crash but compile factual reports. A final report on the cause is due later.

 

The NTSB said there was no sign of engine failure in the Sikorsky S-76 and the rotor was spinning just before it hit the ground at about 184 mph (296 kph). The impact caused a crater and scattered debris over an area the size of a football field in the Calabasas hills. Flames engulfed the wreckage.

Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and six of their friends were killed, along with Zobayan.

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RBC Heritage Starts Thursday

The field at this week's RBC Heritage is akin to the field at last week's Charles Schwab Challenge, and that's a good thing for golf fans who were treated to a stacked leaderboard last weekend at Colonial Country Club. It also means that golf will be starting particularly early over the first two rounds of action this week in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

 

Featured groups are always going to dominate the conversation, and this week's is nearly as good and more stylistically-diverse than they were a week ago. Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, and last year's winner C.T. Pan make up one grouping, while Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Gary Woodland -- all very different swingers of the club -- make up another. Those aren't the only two great groups, either. Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, and Jon Rahm are together, while Jordan Spieth draws Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson early on Thursday morning.

 

Add it all up, and we're in for another week of terrific golf at a small but fun (and nuanced) course in Hilton Head.

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Earnhardt Jr. Headlines 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class

NASCAR’s longtime fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., received the sport’s biggest honor Tuesday, being selected to join his father in the series’ Hall of Fame. Earnhardt will be inducted in Charlotte, North Carolina, along with the late Mike Stefanik and 87-year-old Red Farmer, who is planning to race on Talladega’s dirt track this weekend. Ralph Seagraves was named the Landmark Award winner for his contributions to the sport.

 

Despite never winning a series championship, Earnhardt still received 76% of the votes cast on the modern era ballot.

 

Junior’s grandfather, Ralph, went into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997 and was named one of the NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Junior’s father, The Intimidator, also made the list and even before finishing his career with 76 wins and a record-tying seven Cup titles.

The team-owning father even gave Dale Jr. his first big break, a full-time ride in the Busch Series in 1998. It didn’t take long for Junior to prove he was a natural — on and off the track.

 

He won Busch championships in each of his first two seasons, then two races as a rookie Cup driver in 2000.

 

Junior won 26 races before retiring as a full-time Cup driver following the 2017 season, including two Daytona 500s and the 2001 Pepsi 400, the first Cup race held at Daytona after his father’s death.

 

While Earnhardt will be the headliner at the induction ceremony, he’s impressed by his new classmates, too.

 

Stefanik won seven titles in NASCAR’s modified series and two more in the Busch North series. The nine total victories is tied for second in series history with Richie Evans and Stefanik was named the second greatest driver in modified history in 2003.

 

The 61-year-old Stefanik, who died from injuries sustained in a plane crash in Connecticut last September, edged out Ricky Rudd for the second spot on the ballot with 49% of the vote.

 

Farmer, one of the three original “Alabama Gang” members with brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison, beat out Hershel McGriff by earning 71% of the vote on the pioneer ballot.

 

The 87-year-old Farmer won four Late Model Sportsmen season titles, an estimated 700 to 900 races and also was a member of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. He also is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2004 and this week with the big series returning to Talladega, he’s scrambling to put together a car for two nights of racing on the dirt track across the street.

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2021 Pro Bowl to Be Played at New Vegas Stadium

The Pro Bowl is headed to Las Vegas.

 

The NFL announced Tuesday that the 2021 all-star game will be played at the new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sunday, Jan. 31 — one week before the Super Bowl in Tampa.

 

Plans include what the league calls a week-long celebration of football, and will include NFL FLAG Championship games and a Pro Bowl skills showdown in which players compete in a variety of events. There will be community and charity initiatives as well.

 

The game was played in Orlando the past four years.

 

All NFL activities during Pro Bowl week will adhere to the latest public safety guidelines set by medical and public health officials, as well as operate in full compliance with all local and federal government regulations, the league said.

 

The game has gone back to the traditional AFC versus NFC format and will have 88 players voted in by fans, players and coaches.

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Champ Bailey, Dwight Freeney Headline College Football Hall of Fame Class

Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey, Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney and Kansas State running back Darren Sproles will appear on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.

 

The National Football Foundation on Tuesday announced the 78 players and seven coaches from major college football who are up for selection to the Atlanta-based Hall of Fame. There also are 99 players and 33 coaches from outside the highest level of college football eligible for induction.

 

The College Hall of Fame class of 2021 will be announced early next year.

 

Bailey was the Nagurski Award winner as the nation’s best defensive player in 1998, while also playing receiver and returning kicks for the Bulldogs.

 

Freeney holds the NCAA record for career sacks per game at 1.61 and was co-Big East defensive player of the year in 2001 for Syracuse.

 

Sproles finished fifth in Heisman voting in 2003 for the Wildcats.

 

Among the other notable players on the ballot for the first time are kickers Sebastian Janikowski of Florida State and Luis Zendejas of Arizona State and quarterback Ken Dorsey from Miami. Former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops is also up for induction for the first time.

 

Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer from Southern California and Rashaan Salaam from Colorado are among those returning to the ballot.

 

The ballot was sent to more than 12,000 National Football Foundation members. Votes will be tabulated and then the NFF honors court will select the class of 2021 from the top vote-getters.

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Baseball Players Tell Owners to Mandate Return

Baseball players told Major League Baseball additional talks to start the season during the coronavirus pandemic are pointless and said owners should order a return to work, which likely would spark lengthy litigation and a renewal of the sport’s labor wars.

 

The union’s action Saturday night in the bitter dispute over pay could lead to a season of about 50 games rather than the 82 initially proposed by MLB. The Major League Baseball Players Association could respond by filing a grievance that would be heard by arbitrator Mark Irvings, arguing players are owed hundreds of millions of dollars in damages due to a shorter season.

 

er dialogue with the league would be futile. It’s time to get back to work. Tell us when and where.”

MLB responded with a statement accusing the union of not negotiating in good faith and cited the March agreement that called for prorated salaries but did not obligate teams to play in empty ballparks.

 

While the NBA, NHL and MLS have figured out deals to return in this summer of the coronavirus, baseball has descended into the fractious labor strife that led to eight work stoppages from 1972-95.

 

The union has seethed followed a collective bargaining agreement in late 2016 that led to relatively flat salaries for five straight years, a n unsuccessful grievance accusing the Chicago Cubs of manipulating third baseman Kris Bryant’s service time to delay his eligibility for free agency and a grievance accusing teams of improperly using revenue sharing proceeds, a process the union calls “tanking.”

 

These contentious negotiations heighten the chance of a spring training lockout after the current collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021.

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Denny Hamlin Wins Long Day at Homestead

Denny Hamlin went to the lead for the final time with 30 laps left and held off Chase Elliott for his record-tying third NASCAR Cup Series victory at Homestead.

 

Hamlin raced to his third victory of the season and 40th overall. He opened the season with a victory in the Daytona 500 and won at Darlington last month. And when the night was over, Hamlin — who wears the Michael Jordan “Jumpman” logo on his race suit — made no secret that he’s racing with some extra energy these days.

 

He led 137 of 267 laps on the 1 1/2-mile track in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 Toyota, finishing 0.895 ahead of Elliott.

 

Ryan Blaney was third in a race oft-delayed by rain and lightning. Tyler Reddick finished fourth.

Fittingly, a very long day was the capper to a very long week for NASCAR — three Cup Series races in eight days, all of them bringing drivers into hot and steamy weather conditions that left many of them exhausted.

 

Bubba Wallace finished 13th. Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time champion who had the tunnel that leads to the track named in his honor earlier in the weekend and is retiring as a full-time driver after this season, was 16th.

 

Hamlin won the first two stages and bucked a trend this season, where drivers who do that don’t wind up with the win.

 

Elliott swept the first two stages at Las Vegas before finishing 26th, Clint Bowyer did it before finishing 22nd at Darlington, Alex Bowman took the first two at Charlotte but ended up 19th, and Elliott did it again and finished 22nd at Bristol.

 

The last driver to win the first two stages and ultimately win the race was Martin Truex Jr. at Martinsville last Oct. 27. That is, until now.

 

The weather toyed with the race all day.

 

A slight shower, one where it only rained over Turns 3 and 4, popped up around the very instant that drivers fired up the engines to get things going. That was followed by the day’s first batch of lightning and the delay caused the race to start 55 minutes later than planned.

 

Drivers got through three laps — not even five miles — when lightning was spotted near the track and a caution came out that turned into a red-flag stoppage and would last for 2 hours, 8 minutes. And after about 25 more laps once things finally resumed, lightning struck again to prompt another interruption of nearly 39 minutes.

 

Counting the pre-race delay, that was 3 hours, 42 minutes of sitting around in weather-related stoppages on a day where most of the track was completely dry throughout. It was 8:15 p.m. when the green flag dropped again and drivers — who had been through only 33 laps to that point — started the final 234 times around the Homestead surface.

 

Chase Briscoe survived two late cautions and a frantic overtime finish to prevail in an Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier in the day. 

 

Harrison Burton took the inside line on the way to the lead in the final lap, and held on to win the Xfinity Series race Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Trucks Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday night, his 58th career win on the circuit and his eighth victory in his last 10 trucks starts.

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Daniel Berger Wins in Playoff at Colonial in PGA's Smashing Return

Daniel Berger made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and heard the deafening silence of a big moment with no spectators allowed at Colonial at the Charles Schwab Tournament. He got into a playoff when Collin Morikawa missed a 6-foot birdie putt for the win and Xander Schauffele missed his try from 25 feet.

 

The playoff was held on the 17th hole, another reminder of how this week was different. Playoffs always start on the 18th hole because that’s where the gallery is packed into the grandstands. With no fans allowed, and with the 17th tee right next to the clubhouse, off they went.

 

Morikawa hit a deft chip to 3 feet. Berger chipped even closer from behind the green and rapped in his par. They presumably were headed to the 18th tee until Morikawa’s 3-footer spun out, and Berger was the winner.

 

Schauffele should have been in the playoff, but his 3-footer for par on the 17th in regulation dipped in the right side of the cup and spun out of the left side. Talk about a horrible horseshoe.

 

Justin Rose had an 18-foot birdie putt on the 18th that looked good all the way until it wasn’t. He finished one behind along with Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Kokrak, who also missed birdie chances on the last hole.

 

Players on the charter to the next stop — Hilton Head on the South Carolina shore — had to swing by the pool area at Colonial after the third round for a saliva test. If negative, they board the plane and don’t have to be tested at Hilton Head. Everyone else driving, flying commercial or flying private face another test when they arrive.

 

The tour administered 487 tests for the new coronavirus at Colonial, and the results on all of them came back negative. On the golf course, a dozen of some of golf’s best players — from Rory McIlroy to Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele to Jordan Spieth — all had a chance going into the final round.

 

Commissioner Jay Monahan felt every bit a winner as Daniel Berger at the Charles Schwab Challenge.

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Cubs Take Local Star With First Pick in MLB; Sox Take College Southpaw

Ed Howard lost his senior season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Prom was canceled. Same for graduation at Mount Carmel High School on Chicago’s South Side.

 

Through it all, the 18-year-old Howard kept working. And he got rewarded Wednesday night.

 

The athletic shortstop was selected by the Chicago Cubs with the No. 16 pick in the Major League Baseball amateur draft, becoming the first Illinois high school position player to go in the first round since Jayson Werth in 1997.

 

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Howard was perhaps the best shortstop prospect in the draft. He hit .421 (48 for 114) with three homers in 35 games during his junior year with Mount Carmel.

 

Howard also started for the 2014 Jackie Robinson West Little League team that advanced to the finals of the Little League World Series.

 

Howard, who has committed to the University of Oklahoma, said he’s always playing around with his glove at the house.

 

The White Sox selected left-handed pitcher Garett Crochet from Tennessee. Crochet has the essential attributes teams desire in their starters: a big frame (6-foot-6), a strong arm (he can flirt with triple digits), and an out pitch (his slider). Should he fail in the rotation, he'd probably make a good setup man.

 

The St. Louis Cardinals went with third baseman Jordan Walker from Decatur High School in Georgia. Walker, armed with a Duke commitment, is viewed as a tougher sign than his peers. If he signals to teams he's turning pro, he should be the top prep corner infielder off the board. Walker is listed at 6-foot-5, which would tie him with Kris Bryant for the tallest third baseman in the majors. Predictably, one of his top selling points is his power potential. Even more predictably, there are concerns he'll have to move away from the hot corner due to his size. 

 

The Detroit Tiger selected the Arizona State star Spencer Torkelson with the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball amateur draft Wednesday night.

 

But while Torkelson was long considered the favorite to go first overall, the surprise came when he was announced as a third baseman by Commissioner Rob Manfred. Detroit plans to move Torkelson to the hot corner from first base, where he played for the Sun Devils.

 

Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad went No. 2 to Baltimore, which took Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the top pick a year ago.

 

After Torkelson and Kjerstad were picked, Miami took Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer; Kansas City selected Texas A&M lefty Asa Lacy; Toronto went with Vanderbilt shortstop Austin Martin; Seattle chose Georgia righty Emerson Hancock; and Pittsburgh picked New Mexico State shortstop Nick Gonzales.

 

Tennessee high school outfielder Robert Hassell ended the run on college players, going No. 8 to San Diego.

 

Florida high school outfielder Zac Veen was chosen by Colorado with the ninth pick, followed by the Los Angeles Angels selecting Louisville lefty Reid Detmers to round out the top 10.

 

Rounds 2-5 will be held Thursday, for a total of 160 players selected.

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NASCAR Bans Confederate Flag at Races, Venues

For more than 70 years, the Confederate flag was a common and complicated sight at NASCAR races. Through the civil rights era right on through the season opener at Daytona in February, the flag dotted infield campsites and was waved in grandstands by fans young and old.

 

As the nation — and at last, NASCAR — comes to grips with race relations in the wake of the death of George Floyd, it was time: The flag is no longer welcome in the stock car series.

 

NASCAR banned the flag at its races and all its venues Wednesday, a dramatic step by a series steeped in Southern tradition and proud of its good ol’ boy roots. It must now convince some of its most ardent fans that it is truly time to keep the flag at home, leave those T-shirts in the drawer, scrape off the bumper stickers and hit the track without a trace of the longtime symbol to many of racism and slavery. Policing the policy may prove challenging and NASCAR did not offer details.

 

The issue was pushed to the forefront this week by Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s lone black driver and an Alabama native who called for the banishment of the Confederate flag and said there was “no place” for it in the sport.

 

The ban was announced before Wednesday night’s race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, where Wallace drove Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Chevrolet with a #BlackLivesMatter paint scheme. Wallace, wearing an American flag mask, clapped his hands when asked about the decision before the start of the race.

 

He finished 11th and shifted straight to an interview on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”

 

Wallace wore a black “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt but did not kneel during the national anthem.

His Chevy had “Compassion, Love, Understanding” emblazoned on the hood. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted ”#NASCAR, family” after the announcement, and scores of athletes followed the race on social media. The NAACP applauded NASCAR for taking the necessary step to “remove symbols of hate, racism, and discrimination from their events.”

 

Floyd, a black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and saying that he couldn’t breathe. His death sparked protests that have roiled the nation for days, and Confederate monuments are being taken down across the South — the traditional fan base for NASCAR.

 

Enforcing the ban could require added security in the often rowdy, booze-fueled infield filled with fans who may be intent on thumbing their nose at NASCAR. The series declined additional comment.

 

Fans have not been allowed back at races yet amid the coronavirus pandemic. It won’t be long: NASCAR plans to welcome a small number of fans at a race Sunday near Miami and more later this month in Alabama.

 

The decision had Confederate flag loyalists howling in protest and vowing to swear off the sport.

Truck Series driver Ray Ciccarelli posted on Facebook he would quit the sport, writing: “I could care less about the Confederate Flag but there are ppl that do and it doesn’t make them a racist.”

 

NASCAR helmet artist Jason Beam tweeted “ignorance wins again, NASCAR you realize the North had slaves too, lol not just the South, you want to remove the American Flag as well, idiots.” And a publicist for one NASCAR driver tweeted the decision was “a joke.”

 

It almost didn’t matter with an A-list show of support from actress Reese Witherspoon.

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Truex Ends Winless Streak, Wins at Martinsville

Martin Truex, Jr. cruised down the stretch and won his first NASCAR Cup race of the season on Wednesday night in the first race under the lights at Martinsville Speedway.

 

Truex, the 2017 Cup champion, has been one of NASCAR’s biggest winners over the last three years, but failed to find victory lane for Joe Gibbs Racing over the first 10 races of this season. He won 19 times from 2017-2019.

 

Truex won the Martinsville grandfather clock on the paperclip-shaped track at just 0.526 miles. He won for the first time with new crew chief James Small.

 

Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, who has two wins this season, and Joey Logano made it a 2-3-4 finish for Team Penske.

 

Martinsville capped a stretch of seven straight Cup races since it resumed without fans at the track. That streak ends Sunday when 1,000 Florida service members, representing the Homestead Air Reserve Base and U.S. Southern Command in Doral, are allowed to attend the Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as honorary guests and view the race from the grandstands. The following week at Talladega Superspeedway, up to 5,000 fans will be allowed to attend the race. NASCAR says all fans will be screened before entering, required to wear face coverings, mandated to social distance at six feet, and will not have access to the infield.

 

Austin Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 champion, was helped from the car because of overheating after the crush panels in his No. 3 Chevrolet were damaged earlier in the race. Dillon’s wife is expecting their first child any day now.

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PGA Tour Returns This Weekend

The loaded Charles Schwab Challenge is set, and the field is the best it's ever been at Colonial Country Club for Thursday's restart of the PGA Tour after three months off amid the coronavirus pandemic. There is an air of excitement over the return of major sports with this event, and the loaded slate should give golf fans plenty to look towards over the four rounds.

 

There are some monstrous featured groups, including the top three players in the world -- Rory McIlroy Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka -- who will play together on both Thursday and Friday. For McIlroy, it's his first-ever start at this tournament while Koepka and Rahm have found themselves in contention before.

 

The PGA Tour announced Tuesday that the 8:46 a.m. ET tee time will be empty to honor the life and recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

 

The Charles Schwab Challenge event normally only has around 120 golfers in it, but because of the pandemic, the field has been opened up to 148 players, which makes it feel a bit more like a Players Championship or something at that level.

 

Among the first round groupings:

 

Teeing off from the first tee,

 

1:55 p.m. -- Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth
2:06 p.m. -- Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm
2:17 p.m. -- Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau

 

Teeing off from the tenth tee,

 

8:34 a.m. -- Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell
8:45 a.m. -- Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau
8:56 a.m. -- Kevin Na, Gary Woodland, Phil Mickelson
1:55 p.m. -- Kevin Kisner, Xander Schauffele, Jim Furyk

 

Of concern is what they do off the golf course, even with a designated hotel. Some are staying in houses. Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner have their own chef.

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IHSA Approves Return to Play Plan

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors has approved Return to Play Guidelines developed within the current structure of Governor Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan that provide the first step in IHSA student-athletes returning to participation. 

 

The Return to Play Guidelines were developed by the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) and have been approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

 

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson said in a statement, quote - "I commend the IHSA SMAC for crafting a plan that fits within the framework provided by state leadership, and refuses to compromise safety. The IHSA Return to Play Guidelines offer some important first steps in allowing student-athletes to reacclimate both physically and mentally to athletics, but more importantly, they allow each school to assess their own individual situation and determine if and when they want to proceed."

 

An IHSA member high school may not conduct workouts under the Return to Play Guidelines unless they have local school district approval, and are located in a Health Region that is currently in Phase 3 (or better) under the Governor’s Restore Illinois plan. Any school within a Phase 3 Region of the state could begin to implement the Return to Play Guidelines on June 6.

 

IHSA SMAC member Dr. Preston Wolin, the Surgeon/Director of Sports Medicine at Chicago Center for Orthopedics, said quote - "These guidelines fulfill the IHSA’s twin commitments to interscholastic sports and the health of the interscholastic athletes that play them. The SMAC has taken into account both the most recent news about the virus, and the opinions of experts across the country.

 

Both the SMAC and the Board will continue to monitor events and medical opinions as time moves forward."

 

The Return to Play Guidelines are aimed at student-athlete acclimatization and general physical fitness, and will not include any skill of sport training elements. The guidelines detail the allowable activities for student-athletes and coaches, as well as the safety precautions and social distancing that must be adhered to in order to maximize safety. 

 

IHSA SMAC member Dr. Cynthia R. LaBella, the Medical Director at Institute for Sports Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, added quote - "Our kids have been without sports and school for over two months, which has taken a toll on their physical and emotional health. We purposely designed this first phase to focus solely on strength and conditioning so that kids can gradually rebuild their fitness levels in small peer groups with coach guidance. This will get kids moving again with their peers in the safest way possible, which will have a huge positive impact on their physical and emotional well-being."

 

The IHSA’s Return to Play Guidelines will remain in place until the IHSA or Illinois Department of Health announce further guidelines.

 

Anderson added, quote - "We will continue to seek input from our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, while following guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health, on what potentially happens next in late June".

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Kevin Harvick Wins at Atlanta

Kevin Harvick cruised to victory Sunday over Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in the NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, leading the final 55 laps on a day that began with the series acknowledging the social unrest in the country.

 

Before taking the green flag, the 40 cars stopped in front of the towering, empty grandstands on the front stretch to listen to a message from NASCAR president Steve Phelps and observe a 30-second moment of silence in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.

 

Harvick won for the second time since NASCAR returned from the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, adding to his emotional victory at Darlington in the first race back.

 

Harvick came into the day having led 1,138 laps on the 1.54-mile Atlanta trioval, far more than any other driver in the 40-car field.

 

This one was more of the same. Harvick was out front for 151 laps — more than twice as many as anyone else — and claimed his a third victory in Atlanta, where he got first Cup triumph in 2001 and another win two years ago.

 

Harvick now has 51 wins — breaking a tie with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for the 12th spot on the career list.

Jimmie Johnson's seventh-place showing extended a winless that stretches back more than three years.

 

NASCAR returned to Atlanta to make up a race that was initially scheduled for March 15.

 

Bubba Wallace, the only African American in the Cup series, donned a black T-shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” while standing on pit road before the race.

 

Wallace finished 21st and appeared to faint after climbing from his car on a blistering day when temperatures climbed into the mid-80s. He said he was OK and did a portion of a television interview, but then wasn’t able to speak.

 

Wallace was taken by ambulance to the infield care center, where to was sitting up as he was taken inside on a stretcher. He was treated and released a short time later, though no additional details were provided on what caused his problem.

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