IN THIS CORNER

We’ve gone three months without any of the “Big Four” professional sports due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it looks like we’ve got a ways to go before they return.

The NHL and NBA appear set to be the first to return … maybe.

Training facilities reopened last week for NHL teams in phase two of the league’s return-to-play protocol. The league gave the green light to clubs with COVID-19 restrictions in place, and about a dozen took advantage.

A maximum of six players can train at the facilities at once. On-ice sessions are for players only, with no coaches or other team personnel allowed. Players must wear face coverings at all times, except when exercising or on the ice.

Participation is voluntary, and many players have chosen to remain in their self-quarantine location instead of returning to the team’s city.

The opening of formal NHL training camps will highlight phase three, but that isn’t planned until July 10.

The NHL has determined it will resume play in two hub cities, which will be NHL markets. The NHL narrowed the list to 10 possible cities, but there is no time frame to make an announcement.

The NBA’s board of governors has overwhelmingly approved a proposal for 22 teams to return to play, starting July 31 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.

A growing faction of NBA players, however, remains uncertain about committing to the league's plan for restarting the season in the Orlando bubble environment.

Among the concerns: a surge in coronavirus cases in Florida, conditions surrounding the restrictive environment in the bubble, insurance and liabilities for players based on possible illnesses, and injuries in a truncated finish to the season.

A number of players have also stated a desire to not detract from the current protests and fight against social injustice in the country.

Commissioner Adam Silver said he is confident the league can work through most of those issues over the next few weeks.

MLB appears to be a mess – what’s new?

Commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN on Monday that he is “not confident” there will be a 2020 baseball season and that “as long as there’s no dialogue” with the MLB Players Association, “that real risk is going to continue.”

A report by the Los Angeles Times stated the chance there will be no season increased substantially Monday when the commissioner’s office told the players’ association that it will not proceed with a schedule unless the union waives its right to claim that management violated a March agreement between the feuding sides.

On Friday, MLB delivered a return-to-play proposal that called for a 72-game season and guaranteed 70 percent of players' prorated salaries (with a maximum of 83 percent).

A March agreement between the parties allows MLB to set a schedule, and the league has suggested that in the absence of a negotiated agreement with the union, it could impose a schedule of somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 games and pay players full prorated salaries.

NFL training camps are on schedule to open during the final two weeks of July, the Hall of Fame preseason game is set for Aug. 6, and the opening game of the regular season between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texas is scheduled for Sept. 10.

The NFL has been pledging an on-time start to the season for months, even while working on multiple contingency plans behind the scenes, a number of which were built into the regular season schedule.

The NFL could lose around $3 billion in total revenue if teams play in empty stadiums in 2020.

Eyebrows around the league were raised Monday when it was reported a small number of Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys, including star running back Ezekiel Elliott, have tested positive for the coronavirus.

(Send comments or questions to jj@thenewstimes.com or follow him on Twitter @jjsmithccnt.)

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