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SPORT SPORT_MLB

Baseball players get a peek at playing without fans

Baseball players got a sense of what the game will be like without fans in the stands upon returning for workouts last week.

They’re getting a more realistic glimpse this week as teams begin holding scrimmages.

Yes, it’s very strange.

“It was surreal. … just sitting behind the dish at a major league stadium with major league players on the field and no one else there and playing in competition,” Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns said Thursday. “Occasionally, you’ll see that for a small BP when media isn’t around or cameras aren’t around, but it was really weird to see Christian Yelich in the batter’s box in a major league stadium in competition in an empty ballpark.”

Baseball returned for workouts last week after the season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic during spring training. Teams have started ramping up their workouts in preparation for a 60-game season set to begin on July 23.

The season will start without fans in the stands and will likely remain that way for a while as coronavirus hotspots continue to pop up across the country.

“We’ll remember this season, going through it, for a long time because these are very unusual feelings for all of us to experience when we’re watching games like this,” Stearns said. “In terms of the actual game and the way that the game played out, I think it looked like normal baseball.”

The Boston Red Sox will try to make the atmosphere a little closer to normal by experimenting with piped-in noise, like leagues in Taiwan and Korea have done.

“So hopefully it won’t be quite as quiet. It is quiet today,” Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said. “I think we’re just constantly adjusting to things and trying to figure it out.”

UMPIRES RESPOND TO WEST

Umpire Joe West faced backlash earlier this week after he said he doesn’t believe all the deaths attributed to COVID-19 were from the virus.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association stepped back from West’s comments with a statement issued on Thursday.

“Recent public comments about the current Coronavirus pandemic do not in any way reflect the position of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association,” the statement said. “Our nation, and our world, has suffered greatly from this deadly virus. In the midst of continued suffering umpires are attempting to do our part to bring the great game of baseball back onto the field and into the homes of fans everywhere.”

POSEY STILL OUT

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey was gone from Giants’ workouts for a second straight day and third in all while dealing with a personal issue.

Posey said last weekend he still had some reservations about playing this year amid the pandemic. Manager Gabe Kapler wouldn’t say whether Posey had indicated that was the reason for his absence.

“Buster is still working through a personal issue. I want to respect his privacy,” Kapler said.

CESPEDES HOMERS

Yoenis Cespedes launched a two-run homer off Seth Lugo during the Mets’ intrasquad game at Citi Field. Rather than trot around the bases after the ball cleared the fence, Cespedes simply walked back to the dugout.

The 34-year-old slugger missed last season and most of 2018 due to a string of injuries. He had surgery on both heels and then broke his ankle in a fall at his Florida ranch. The two-time All-Star said in February he finally expected to be ready to play this year, and he’s looked healthy and dangerous in the batter’s box since summer camp opened last Friday.

It seems his only remaining hurdle is showing he can sprint full speed without issue.

REYES APOLOGIZES

The Cleveland Indians kept outfielder Franmil Reyes away from camp after he was spotted on social media attending a Fourth of July gathering.

Reyes was allowed to resume on-field activities on Wednesday after being re-tested twice and apologized for putting himself and his teammates at risk.

“I really apologize, because I was not protecting myself and my teammates,” he said on Thursday. “I learned from it and it won’t happen again. I really don’t want to stop practicing. I really apologize and I swear it won’t happen again.”

HOPEFUL RANGERS

Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said All-Star slugger Joey Gallo and lefty reliever Brett Martin are both feeling good but still haven’t been cleared to start working out with the team.

Both tested positive for the coronavirus during intake testing last week. Daniels said Gallo was still asymptomatic and that Martin, who has Type 1 diabetes, is feeling better every day after initially having mild symptoms, including congestion and fatigue.

“I am hopeful they won’t be out much longer,” Daniels said, without elaborating.

NO SPITTING

One of the new rules during the pandemic is the prohibition of spitting to prevent the virus from spreading.

Following the rule is not as easy as it sounds. Players have actually been practicing not spitting.

“That’s a big thing for me. I do dip some tobacco. I’ll have to change that up, maybe go to gum more often,” the Marlins’ Garrett Cooper said. “That’s the natural thing for a baseball player to do, spit. That’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives — gum, sunflower seeds, a lot of guys dip tobacco. It’s part of your normal protocol. Maybe it helps people calm down. I’ve caught myself a few times. I start to spit and go, ‘Oh man, I can’t do this now.’ It’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

EXTRA WORK

Altanta starter Mike Foltynewicz looked sharp in three innings of a controlled scrimmage, which he credited to workouts he participated in at nearby Campbell High School with Mike Soroka and Sean Newcomb, during the long break. He’s been throwing six times a week and pitching bullpens.

“We got really lucky to be able to go to that school and throw every day,” Foltynewicz said. “It was difficult just to get in gyms and get in the parks to throw. It was tough. Me, Newk, Mike. We had a bunch of guys come in, left- and right-(handed hitters), just to stay ready. At any time MLB could’ve started us back up and we could’ve had to ship right out to spring training.”

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SPORT SPORT_NCAA

Big Ten scraps nonconference football games due to pandemic

The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it will not play nonconference games in football and several other sports this fall, the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The conference cited medical advice in making its decision and added ominously that the plan would be applied only “if the conference is able to participate in fall sports.”

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said it was “much easier if we’re just working with our Big Ten institutions” in terms of things like scheduling and traveling.

“We may not have sports in the fall,” Warren told the Big Ten Network. “We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.

“So we just wanted to make sure that this was the next logical step to always rely on our medical experts to keep our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions and make sure that they are as healthy as they possibly can be from a mental, a physical, an emotional health and wellness standpoint.”

There has been deep unease that the pandemic will deal a blow to fall sports after wiping out hundreds of games, including March Madness, this past spring. More than a dozen schools have reported positive tests for the virus among athletes in the past month but the bad news picked up this week as the Ivy League canceled all fall sports and Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports.

The Big Ten decision is the biggest yet because Bowl Subdivision football games — more than 40 of them, all moneymakers in different ways — were simply erased. And the move didn’t wash away fears the entire fall season could be in jeopardy.

“I am really concerned, that is the question of the day,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on a conference call after the announcement. “I was cautiously optimistic. I’m not even there now.”

Besides football, the sports affected include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

“By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic,” the Big Ten said.

The other big conferences, the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, have all indicated they intend to play fall sports.

“The Big Ten decisions are interesting and provide additional information to inform our discussions,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “At this time our medical and scientific advisors have suggested we should move ahead slowly and with constant re-evaluation. We plan to continue to prepare for all available scenarios until we are informed that some are no longer viable.”

Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said league officials “will continue to meet with regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by the medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to the SEC fall sports.”

The marquee nonconference matchups in the Big Ten this season included Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Other big matchups included Michigan at Washington, Ohio State-Oregon, Penn State-Virginia Tech and Miami-Michigan State.

Much of the pain will be felt at smaller schools that lean heavily on the big-money games to help fund their athletic budgets. Hours before the Big Ten announcement, Northern Iowa, which will lose a Sept. 5 game at Iowa, said it expected an athletics budget shortfall to exceed $1 million.

A handful of teams were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents, including Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Bowling Green athletic director Bob Moosbrugger said the Big Ten’s decision “is the tip of the iceberg.”

“Ten FBS conferences have signed a college football playoff agreement with an expectation that we will work together for the good of college football,” Moosbrugger said. “If we are to solve these challenges and be truly dedicated to protecting the health and safety of our student-athletes, we need to do a better job of working together.”

Illinois State was scheduled to play at Illinois on Sept. 4.

“Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision, as there are many people affiliated with both universities that have had this game circled on their calendars for a long time,” Illinois State athletic director Larry Lyons said. He said the budget is in a “constant state of flux,” but there are no plans to cut sports.

Memphis, which had been scheduled to visit Purdue on Sept. 12, announced Thursday it was cutting administrative and sports operation budgets 14% in addition to some other personnel savings.

The Big Ten said it would release detailed schedules later and continue to evaluate other sports. The league said its schools will honor scholarships for athletes who choose not to compete in the upcoming academic year because of concerns about the coronavirus.

Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said he and his Big Ten colleagues “know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks.”

In the SEC, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was asked about the possible rationale for a conference-only schedule.

“Probably, it’s a comfort level of how protocols are being enacted, how testing is done and then keeping it within that family, if you will — your expanded social circle or social pod,” said Sterk, whose Tigers play in the SEC. “You might be able to control things more that way, or feel like you can, anyway versus the unknown of people coming from outside our 11 states.”

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SPORT SPORT_NBA

Practices begin at Disney, as teams begin restart routines

Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Orlando Magic practice of the restart, and some of his teammates remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.

After four months, basketball was truly back.

Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus earlier this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotel and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.

“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers among them. Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family, and 76ers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bubble. … Hated to leave the (hashtag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.

Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Florida — they’ve been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.

Brooklyn, Utah, Washington and Phoenix all were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. Denver was originally scheduled to, then pushed back its opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven different facilities.

Exhibition games begin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor. Many players have passed the time with video games; Miami center Meyers Leonard, with the Heat not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.

“For the most part, everything has been pretty good in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”

Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of different facilities while getting back into the practice routine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”

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SPORT SPORT_MLS

Black Players for Change lead protest at MLS is Back tourney

Now that Major League Soccer has re-started, a group of Black Major League Soccer players is using the moment to call attention to systemic racism across sports and society.

Black Players for Change was formerly the Black Players Coalition of MLS, but changed its name this week while joining forces with the Players Coalition, the NFL players group founded by Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Jenkins.

Black Players for Change made its first public demonstration since coming together last month at Wednesday night’s opening game of the MLS Is Back tournament in Florida.

Players stood, fists raised, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time that has become a symbol of police brutality, after a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck when he died. More than 170 Black players, some wearing “Silence is Violence” T-shirts and Black Lives Matter face masks, took part in the pregame protest.

“Really this protest is about fighting for racial equality and human rights,” organizer Justin Morrow of Toronto FC said. “We’re standing with all of our brothers and sisters across the world — definitely across the North American sports landscape, but we see what’s happening over in Europe as well, how soccer players are fighting against racism there. We’re standing with all of our brothers and sisters to fight this fight.”

Black Players for Change sprung from an Instagram group started by Morrow after the death of Floyd. The death sparked protests worldwide against racism and policy brutality.

Portland’s Jeremy Ebobisse, Chicago’s CJ Sapong, Nashville’s Jalil Anibaba, NYCFC’s Sean Johnson and Colorado’s Kei Kamara are among some of the other players involved. The group has the endorsement of both MLS and the players’ association.

“It was very powerful to put my fist up and to be there on the field with so many people that are trying to make a change in this country. And that’s what we need to do,” Inter Miami’s Juan Agudelo said.

The group has called on the league to increase diversity hiring in coaching, front office and executive positions, appoint a chief diversity officer, implement implicit bias training and expand cultural education.

It has also discussed developing the game in black communities and partnering with charities, and has already secured $75,000 in charitable contributions from the MLS Players Association.

“This moment for us as a black player pool, is that we can stand up, we can make this statement that’s come completely from us. It was so important that it was player led, it couldn’t have worked the other way around,” Morrow said. “This moment of solidarity with our brothers and sisters fighting this battle for racial equality and human rights is so important. And we want to make sure that the narrative was player led, player driven in coming strictly from us.”

The Players Coalition partnership allows the two groups from different sports to share resources in a common goal. The NFL group, which aims to address social justice and racial inequality, was started in 2017 after team owners objected to players kneeling during the national anthem.

“The commonalities and goals of both our organizations presented a natural opportunity to align,” Boldin said in a statement. “I am excited to continue the growth of Players Coalition as an opportunity for all athletes across all professional sports leagues to make a significant impact in our communities.”

Players Coalition reached out to the MLS players upon hearing about their group.

“All of these people are reaching out to us, wanting to help us, and that just gets to what we’re doing here, Morrow said. ”We’re putting together something really solid, an organization that is here for future generations, here to make lasting change in Major League Soccer and in our communities.”

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SPORT SPORT_MLS

MLS returns to action after poignant moment of silence

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Nani called it beautiful and emotional.

He wasn’t talking about either goal he played a part in during Orlando City’s 2-1 victory over Inter Miami on Wednesday night.

Nearly 200 players took the field for an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence to protest racial injustice before Major League Soccer’s return to action. Players wore black T-shirts, black gloves and black facemasks emblazoned with Black Lives Matter. The shirts had varying slogans that included Black And Proud, Silence Is Violence and Black All The Time.

The players walked toward midfield, raised their right arms one at a time and held the pose so long that some could be seen stretching fatigued muscles afterward.

It was a poignant moment that put two of the nation’s most prominent changes over the last four months — masks and movements — at the forefront of the sport’s return.

“I felt for a couple of minutes,” Nani said shortly after scoring the go-ahead goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time. “We all want to change the world. We want a better world — no differences, no discrimination. … Everyone in the world should stop for a couple of minutes and think about our children and teach them how to be a better person and create a better world.”

The group setting the tone was formerly called the Black Players Coalition of MLS but changed its name this week to Black Players for Change. Originally announced on Juneteenth, the group started in the wake of George Floyd’s death with the hope of combating systemic racism both in soccer and the players’ communities. The league and the players’ union endorsed the organization.

Several other players from Orlando City and Inter Miami took a knee near midfield during the demonstration.

The two in-state teams delivered their own moment of silence by taking a knee along with the referee and the line judges just before the opening kick.

The national anthem was not played before or after the demonstration. MLS previously said it would not be played because no fans were in attendance.

Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. Prosecutors said that a police officer had his knee on the neck of Floyd for 7 minutes, 46 seconds — not the 8:46 that has become a symbol of police brutality.

MLS players had weeks to decide what to do prior to the MLS is Back tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World.

The league’s teams are sequestered in resorts for the duration of the World Cup-style tournament, which began with a Group A match that was the first meeting between two Sunshine State teams.

FC Dallas withdrew Monday after 10 players and a coach tested positive for COVID-19. A day later, Nashville SC’s status was thrust into doubt with five confirmed positive tests.

Nashville was supposed to play Chicago in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday but it was postponed.

MLS shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, after the league’s teams had each played two regular-season games.

The reboot had a considerably different feel — without fans and with plenty of concern even amid a safety bubble.

“Today we made the noise,” Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said.

But 25 teams that include nearly 700 players plus coaches, trainers and other support staff do everything right for a month? And what’s the threshold for more positive tests?

The NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball surely have a close eye on what’s happening outside Orlando.

The NBA should get an up-close look. The league already has part of its bubble established at the sprawling ESPN venue. NBA team flags fly on every flagpole, and some areas have been sanitized and cordoned off for basketball’s return later this month.

MLS is using three fields near the back of the complex, two of the ones the NFL used for Pro Bowl practices the last four years. The league mandated masks for everyone other than players. Miami star Rodolfo Pizarro, though, wore one during warmups. Soccer balls knocked out of bounds were wiped down before being placed back into the mix.

Many of the protocols are similar to those being used in other sports. Of course, there’s no social distancing on the field.

Miami’s Andres Reyes left on a stretcher early in the second half after a scary collision with Orlando’s Dom Dwyer. Replays appeared to show Dwyer hitting Reyes in the throat as they went for a 50-50 ball.

Reyes had trouble breathing as teammates and the referee called for help. Adding to the growing concern on the field, the emergency crew got hung up trying to gain access to him.

Security personnel struggled to open a gate, delaying the medical team’s response. It was slow enough that one of Reyes’ teammates, Juan Agudelo, ran across the field to help and ended up assisting in pulling the stretcher across the soggy grass.

Miami coach Diego Alonso said afterward that he had “no information” on Reyes’ condition.

Chris Mueller scored the equalizer for Orlando, getting a sliding toe on a perfect cross from Nani to the back post in the 70th minute.

“We deserved to win that game,” Pareja said. “It was a reward for the players, what they did on the field.”

Agudelo scored the first goal of MLS’ return, drilling a left-footer past Pedro Gallese to cap a play that started with two teammates on top of each other in the box.

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SPORT SPORT_NCAA

Ivy League suspends fall sports due to coronavirus pandemic

The Ivy League on Wednesday became the first Division I conference to suspend all fall sports, including football, leaving open the possibility of moving some seasons to the spring if the coronavirus pandemic is better controlled by then.

“We simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk,” the Ivy League Council of Presidents said in a statement.

“We are entrusted to create and maintain an educational environment that is guided by health and safety considerations. There can be no greater responsibility — and that is the basis for this difficult decision.”

Though the coalition of eight academically elite schools does not grant athletic scholarships or compete for an NCAA football championship, the move could have ripple effects throughout the big business of college sports.

It was the Ivy League’s March 10 decision to scuttle its postseason basketball tournament that preceded a cascade of cancellations. All major college and professional sports were halted within days.

Football players in the Power Five conferences have already begun workouts for a season that starts on Aug. 29, even as their schools weigh whether to open their campuses to students or continue classes remotely. More than a dozen prominent programs from Clemson to LSU to Oklahoma have reported positive tests among their athletes in the few weeks since voluntary workouts began. Some have temporarily shut down the workouts, incluidng Ohio State and North Carolina on Wednesday alone.

Dr. Chris Kratochvil, the chair of the Big Ten’s infectious disease task force, said there is no “hard deadline” for a decision on sports.

“Of course, we watch everything that’s going on,” said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, whose league has schools in five states from West Virginia to Iowa and Texas. “But we’re going to go forward and do our own evaluation, and so far our scientists and medical people are telling us that we should stay the course, and learn as we go and move slowly and evaluate as we go.”

The Ivy League announcement affects not just football but soccer, field hockey, volleyball and cross country, as well as the fall portion of winter sports like basketball. Wednesday’s decision means Harvard and Yale will not play football in 2020, interrupting a rivalry known as The Game for the first time since the two World Wars.

“This news is disappointing for all of us,” Harvard athletic director Erin McDermott said. “While the Fall 2020 experience will be unlike any other, I am confident that we will find positive opportunities in this challenging time. We will keep moving forward through this painful but temporary experience, together.”

The league said it has not yet determined whether some seasons can be moved to the spring. But the conference noted that its schools already are limiting gatherings, visitors and travel for students and staff.

“As athletics is expected to operate consistent with campus policies, it will not be possible for Ivy League teams to participate in intercollegiate athletics competition prior to the end of the fall semester,” the league said.

Ivy League schools are spread across seven Northeastern states that, as of mid-July, have seen some success at mitigating the spread of COVID-19. But most of those states still ban large gatherings; under the Massachusetts reopening plan, Harvard would not be allowed to have fans in the stands until a vaccine is developed.

Harvard has already announced that all classes for both semesters will be held virtually; dorms will be open only to freshmen and seniors. Yale said it would limit its dorms to 60% capacity and said most classes would be conducted remotely. Princeton will also do most of its teaching online, with dorms at half capacity.

But while Ivy League football remains a quaint extracurricular activity, the sport drives millions in revenues for Power Five schools. According to USA Today, the Longhorns football program brought Texas more than $144 million in 2018.

Losing football would be a heavy blow for most schools. As Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports, its athletic director warned that a $25 million deficit forecast for 2021 would likely double if the football season is canceled.

At a White House summit on reopening schools earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump asked University of Alabama chancellor Finis St. John if the Crimson Tide will play football this year.

“I can promise you. We are planning to play the season at the University of Alabama,” St. John said. “Understand that creates great difficulties and complexities, and we are hoping for that. It’s important to a lot of people. But we’re doing our best on that one.”

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh said on Wednesday he and his team want to play — even if it means moving the season to the spring, or playing in front of more than 100,000 empty seats at Michigan Stadium, known as “The Big House.”

“It (the pandemic) is part of our society and we’re going to have to deal with it,” he said. “These kids have to do the same thing. They’ve got to go to school. They’ve been training their whole lives for the opportunity to play their sport.”

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SPORT SPORT_NFL

NFL’s stay-at-home order means no travel for training camp

Tim Flynn was looking forward to one final year as the mayoral host of training camp for the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California.

So much for that.

The pandemic forced the NFL to abandon, at least for this year, the fading but still time-honored tradition of teams traveling to training camp.

The league’s version of a stay-at-home order will end the latest California run for the Cowboys, stop the 54-year streak for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and keep the Carolina Panthers away from the only campsite the 25-year-old franchise has known.

And Flynn won’t get that final, formal goodbye with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Camps are scheduled to start July 28.

“It’s a little bit of a disappointment for me individually because I’m moving on,” said Flynn, who is running for another office in Ventura County after 14 years on the Oxnard City Council, the last eight as mayor.

“But you know what? I’ll still be able to see the practices. I just won’t be mayor doing it. That’s kind of like my own special relationship there.”

Flynn is confident the Cowboys will be back after one year in Texas. Dallas will hold the entirety of camp in its home market for the first time. It will be in the sparkling facility that opened four years ago and can handle the logistics because of an indoor field that can keep players out of the Texas heat.

But even before the opening of the sprawling complex 30 minutes north of Dallas, Flynn said he never worried about whether Jones would quit bringing the Cowboys to California.

Likewise, Flynn isn’t concerned that Jones & Co. will suddenly realize they have everything they need in the suburb of Frisco and don’t have to make the NFL’s longest trip for training camp: about 1,500 miles.

Among the biggest assets about 60 miles north of Los Angeles are mild weather and two side-by-side outdoor grass fields next to a hotel that houses all players, coaches and staff members.

“There’s just nothing that can replace it,” Flynn said. “The lure of California will always be there. And if not just for the Cowboys, it is for many other teams. But we have a very special relationship with the Cowboys and we want that to continue.”

Officials with Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, are preparing for the permanent departure of the Panthers. The club is building a practice facility in Rock Hill, still in South Carolina but about 40 miles closer to downtown Charlotte.

When the new building opens, training camp and everything else will be held there — as it is with the majority of NFL teams. For decades, most or all teams trained elsewhere in the summer. That number has dwindled to single digits.

Wofford, the alma mater of former owner Jerry Richardson, built locker rooms and facilities specifically for the expansion Panthers, who debuted in 1995.

“We’ve enjoyed hosting them, made a lot of friendships and learned a lot,” said athletic director Richard Johnson, who was Wofford’s men’s basketball coach when the Panthers showed up.

“I think the ancillary benefit to hosting camps is you get kind of the side benefit, the expertise of that organization. We’re going to miss that. It’s always good to have visitors on campus. So we’re gonna miss that as well.”

Saint Vincent College in Latrobe hasn’t seen a summer without the Steelers since 1965, when they trained in Kingston, Rhode Island, before splitting the 1966 camp between the University of Rhode Island and Saint Vincent.

In a brief statement after the NFL announced that teams would stay home, Steelers President Art Rooney II said the club planned to return to Latrobe next year.

The Cowboys had a 27-year streak in Thousand Oaks, not far from Oxnard, that ended in 1990, a year after Jones bought the team and fired longtime coach Tom Landry. The club has bounced between Texas and California since. The latest streak in Oxnard lasted eight years.

The Buffalo Bills have trained about a 90-minute drive from home at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, since 2000, and their current deal covers next season.

Sean McDermott has preferred shorter stints away from home, and there’s been speculation the fourth-year coach wants to spend the entire time at the Bills’ facility. McDermott takes issue with such talk.

“I think there was some myth, for some reason, mixed messaging early,” said McDermott, who has led the Bills to the playoffs twice in three seasons after Buffalo missed the postseason 17 straight years. “I just believe in that for a lot of reasons, one of which is getting away I think builds fellowship and camaraderie.”

Super Bowl champion Kansas City has trained about an hour north in St. Joseph’s, Missouri, for the past decade, and coach Andy Reid prefers going away. Like the Cowboys, the Chiefs have two outdoor fields and one indoor field, so being at home won’t be a huge issue.

It’s not much of a blip for Indianapolis either. The Colts have trained not far from home at a massive youth sports complex the past two years and are likely to return next year.

Washington has trained in Richmond, Virginia, since 2013, but was at team headquarters before that. The move to Richmond was mostly for fans, so it might be in play next year.

Flynn is sure the fans will be waiting if — he leans toward when — the Cowboys return to Southern California.

“The Cowboys being a national sports team, it broadens their fan base by coming to California,” Flynn said. “I just always thought they’d be back.”

If so, they’ll be greeted by a new mayor.

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SPORT SPORT_Racing

NASCAR’s Johnson OK’d to race after 2 negative virus tests

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has twice tested negative for the coronavirus and will race Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Johnson missed the first race of his Cup career when he tested positive last Friday. He was tested after his wife received a positive result.

Hendrick Motorsports said Johnson tested negative on Monday and Tuesday and will return to the No. 48 Chevrolet at Kentucky. NASCAR confirmed Wednesday that Johnson has been cleared to return.

“It’s been an emotional journey and I’m so happy to be back,” he tweeted.

Johnson’s streak of 663 consecutive starts — most among active drivers — was snapped when he didn’t race Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Justin Allgaier replaced him at the Brickyard 400 and finished 37th after an early multi-car crash on pit road.

Johnson is the only NASCAR driver to test positive for the coronavirus since the series resumed racing on May 17. He is scheduled to retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of this season.

“My family is so grateful for the incredible love and support we’ve received over the last several days,” he said. “I especially want to thank Justin Allgaier for stepping in for me at Indy and being a true pro. I’m excited about getting back to business with my team this weekend.”

Johnson never experienced any symptoms; his wife, Chani, was tested after suffering from what she thought was routine seasonal allergies. When she received her positive result, Johnson and their two young daughters were tested. Their daughters were negative.

Hendrick Motorsports had four crew members tested for COVID-19 after Johnson’s diagnosis and all four received negative results. The No. 48 team will have its regular personnel roster for Sunday’s race.

Missing the Brickyard 400 dropped Johnson to 15th in the driver standings, 46 points above the cutoff for playoffs.

Even before Johnson’s diagnosis, Hendrick Motorsports had implemented strict protocols that include daily health screenings for employees working at team facilities. The organization works in split work schedules with stringent face covering and social distancing requirements. Hendrick has also increased its level of disinfecting and sanitizing all work areas.

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Ryder Cup postponed until 2021; Presidents Cup pushed back

Seth Waugh knows how a Ryder Cup is supposed to look and how it should sound.

In his first week as CEO at the PGA of America, Waugh was in the 72-foot high grandstand behind the first tee at Le Golf National outside Paris. Flags were waving. Fans were singing. Players were trying to conceal their nerves. That’s what he expects for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

Next year.

The inevitable became reality Wednesday when Ryder Cup officials postponed the September matches until next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic that made it increasingly unlikely the loudest event in golf could have spectators.

“A Ryder Cup with no fans is not a Ryder Cup,” Waugh said.

The Ryder Cup was scheduled for Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits along the Lake Michigan shore. Because of a reconfigured schedule created by golf being shut down for three months, the matches would have been held one week after the U.S. Open.

Now, the Ryder Cup will move to Sept. 24-26, 2021, the second time in the last two decades it was postponed. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led the 2001 matches to be postponed two weeks before they were set to be played.

Waugh, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, called it “the most complicated deal of my career” because of so many moving parts.

The decision mean Europe’s next home Ryder Cup set for Italy has been pushed back until 2023. The European Tour thrives on Ryder Cup revenue.

And it affects the PGA Tour, which already has lost millions this year while trying to keep canceled tournaments solvent. The Presidents Cup in 2021 at Quail Hollow in North Carolina was a sellout in corporate hospitality, and it now gets pushed back a year.

Quail Hollow instead will host the Wells Fargo Championship next spring, and that event will move to the TPC Potomac in 2022 during the Presidents Cup year.

“It was very clear that once we reset the schedule, there were challenges,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. “They did absolutely everything they could to play the Ryder Cup and play it with fans. When it was clear that was something they were unable to do, we came to the table and were about to reach the right outcome for players and fans.”

Franco Chimenti, president of the Italian Golf Federation, told The Associated Press the postponement gives Rome more time to prepare the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.

“We would have been ready (by 2022), and now we’ll be ready by 2023,” Chimenti said. “We’re about to inaugurate the course. We don’t have problems.”

Among the issues caused by the pandemic was travel by European fans, who would have had to spend a month in quarantine — two weeks both coming and going — for three days of matches. The environment at the Ryder Cup is unlike any other in golf, with distinctive tones of cheering from Europeans and Americans, hour-by-hour tension over 28 matches from the opening tee shot Friday morning until the final putt Sunday afternoon.

“The Ryder Cup is uniquely about the fans,” Waugh said. “We didn’t want to build Lambeau Field, get hopes up and then have to cancel.”

There is no guarantee moving it back a year will change anything. The PGA Tour resumed its schedule a month ago and has not allowed spectators for at least seven events. The PGA Championship on Aug. 6-9 in San Francisco will be the first major without fans.

Waugh raised the notion of canceling the Ryder Cup if the coronavirus situation hasn’t changed by next September, though he was “betting on science.”

The Americans, who won the last Ryder Cup on home soil in 2016, changed their qualifying because of the three-month shutdown that allowed Steve Stricker six captain’s picks. With the postponement, the U.S. and European teams are reviewing their criteria. Europe said its Ryder Cup points earned since last September have been frozen until next year.

Players had urged all along for the Ryder Cup to be postponed if fans couldn’t be there.

“The decision to reschedule is the right thing to do under the circumstances,” Stricker said. “At the end of the day, we want to stage a Ryder Cup that will rival all over Ryder Cups in my home state of Wisconsin, and now we have the opportunity to showcase the event as it was meant to be seen.”

The move does nothing to ease a crowded golf schedule for 2021. The Summer Olympics already were postponed with hopes Tokyo can host them next summer. Golf also has three other cups on the calendar — the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup for amateurs, and the Solheim Cup on the LPGA Tour, which is scheduled to finish on Labor Day next summer at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.

When the Ryder Cup was postponed because of 9/11, that led to the Solheim Cup in Minnesota and the Ryder Cup in England played in consecutive weeks in 2002. The Solheim Cup then moved to odd-numbered years. That wouldn’t appear to be the case this time.

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said in May that he wouldn’t be bothered by the Ryder Cup going to 2021 as long as it didn’t affect the Solheim dates.

“I think at this point, Solheim is strong enough to survive, whether it’s a week or two before or after the Ryder Cup,” Whan said at the time. “Even if we never sold another dollar or got one more thing right for that course, it’s going to be a home run. I wouldn’t do that to them and all the other ones that follow.”

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NHL, players announce labor deal, plan to resume play Aug. 1

The NHL is in position to resume playing in less than a month — with 24 teams in action, all in Canada — and could be on the verge of enjoying labor peace through 2026.

The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association on Monday announced a tentative deal on a return-to-play format and a memorandum of understanding on a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement.

Should both agreements be ratified, the NHL would proceed immediately to its expanded 24-team playoff format, with play beginning on Aug. 1. Under the plan, training camps would open July 13, with teams traveling to their respective hub cities for exhibition games on July 26.

The hub cities are Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, for the qualifying round and at least first two playoff rounds, according to a person with direct knowledge of the agreements who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the league and NHLPA have not released this information.

For the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final, the person said, the league is being cautious and allowing itself site flexibility in the event of potential spikes in COVID-19 infections.

Extending the CBA, which was set to expire in September 2022, was considered a necessary step in restarting the season, which was placed on pause in March as a result of the pandemic. The extension covers numerous on- and off-ice issues, including the NHL’s potential return to the Olympics, the person said.

If approved, players would be in a position to compete at the Beijing Olympics in 2022 and in Italy four years later. In order for that to happen, the NHL would first have to resolve marketing rights and health insurance, among otehr issues, with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation.

The NHL, NHLPA and IIHF had what were called productive talks earlier this year. The NHL participated in five consecutive Olympics from 1998-2014 before skipping 2018 in South Korea.

Financially, the CBA extension would attempt to address the lost revenue stemming from the remainder of the regular season being wiped out and with empty arenas looming for the playoffs.

Players would defer 10% of salaries next season which owners would pay back over three consecutive seasons starting in 2022-23, a second person familiar with the proposed agreement told The AP. The salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for at least next season, the person said, also speaking only on the condition of anonymity because the details have not been released.

Escrow payments to owners to even out hockey-related revenue at 50/50 would be capped at 20% next season, with the cap decreasing throughout the deal, the second person said. If owners are still owed money from the players, the CBA would be extended for an additional season. Escrow has been one of the biggest complaints of players in the past several years.

The agreements need two-thirds approval by owners.

On the union side, the agreements must first be approved by a majority of the NHLPA’s 31-member executive committee before going to a vote to the full membership. The executive committee is expected to make its recommendation by the end of day Tuesday; if approved, the players would be expected to complete their voting process by Friday.

Over the weekend, the league and players agreed to an extensive series of return-to-play protocols involving training camp and games. Players will be allowed to opt out of competing in the expanded playoffs, and will have three days to make their decision once the agreement is ratified.

Should the league push ahead, the matchups are already known: The top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in the West) play a handful of round-robin games to determine seeding.

Those top seeds then face the winners of eight opening-round, best-of-five series: No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 12 Montreal Canadiens; No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 11 New York Rangers; No. 7 New York Islanders vs. No. 10 Florida Panthers; No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets; No. 5 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks; No. 6 Nashville Predators vs. No. 11 Arizona Coyotes; No. 7 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 10 Minnesota Wild; and the No. 8 Calgary Flames vs. No. 9 Winnipeg Jets.