Trump convenes sports commissioners in hopes of filling stadiums

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President Trump on Wednesday spoke with the heads of major sports leagues to solicit their thoughts on reopening parts of the economy during a pandemic that has cast doubt on whether sporting events will resume this year.

The president convened more than a dozen advisory groups covering different sectors of the economy. Among them was a sports-focused council that featured commissioners of the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, Major League Soccer, UFC, the PGA and the LPGA.

Other participants included New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — both Trump donors — as well as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Vince McMahon, CEO of WWE and husband of former Trump administration official Linda McMahon.

The group held its first call Wednesday afternoon and discussed the feasibility of restarting or holding sporting events in the coming weeks and months. The sports executives on the call offered “innovative input on social distancing guidelines,” the White House said in a readout.

The president has been exceedingly optimistic about the chances of the NFL starting its season on time in September, even as public health experts and local officials cast doubt on the likelihood of holding large gatherings until a vaccine is ready.

“We want to get our sports back, so importantly,” Trump, an avid sports fan who has attended college and professional football games, a UFC match and a professional baseball game while in office, said Tuesday.

“I’m tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old,” he said. “But I haven’t actually had too much time to watch. I would say maybe I watch one batter and then I get back to work.”

Vice President Pence held a separate call Wednesday with the College Football Playoff Committee, a 13-person group consisting of athletic directors, university presidents, and former coaches and players who select the teams to participate in the sport’s annual playoff.

Bob Bowlsby, who runs the Big 12 Conference, told CBS Sports that the group’s message to Pence was that college athletics would not resume until it was safe for students to return to campus. Colleges and universities across the country have shifted to remote learning in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

“Our players are students. If we’re not in college, we’re not having contests,” Bowlsby said.

The vice president’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the call.

The fate of the college football season is particularly critical for universities that depend on the sport’s revenue to fund its athletic departments. Some schools have already signaled they will have to cut certain nonrevenue sports. The University of Cincinnati on Tuesday announced it was eliminating its men’s soccer program.

Officials have indicated that the U.S. must ramp up coronavirus testing, identify new cases and conduct contact tracing to isolate potential cases before large gatherings like sporting events and concerts can resume.

“The prospect of mass gatherings is negligible at best until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told reporters at a Tuesday press briefing.

Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, expressed uncertainty in an interview published Wednesday about the prospects for baseball and football this year.

“It’s really going to depend on what actually evolves over the next couple of months,” Fauci told “Good Luck America” host Peter Hamby. “Regarding sports … I think this is going to be implemented by the initiation and the initiative of the people who own these clubs.”

Some leagues have already begun developing proposals that would allow games to take place with layers of restrictions and precautions to mitigate the risk of coronavirus.

MLB, for example, has discussed holding an abbreviated season with all teams based in Arizona. Teams and coaching staff would be quarantined in hotels between games and tested regularly. No spectators would be allowed in the stands.

That idea, even in its earliest form, ran into logistical hurdles and pushback from players. Some have dismissed the possibility of being separated from their families for months, while others expressed unease with potentially using up testing resources that might be needed elsewhere across the country.

But Fauci indicated in Wednesday’s interview that such a regimented system might be the best path to bringing sports back. He added that he would be among the legions of sports fans starved for games and would be more than happy to see players competing again, even if it came with a twist.

“I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game,” he said. “Particularly me. I’m living in Washington. We have the world champion Washington Nationals. You know, I want to see them play again.”

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus Donald Trump Gavin Newsom Linda McMahon LPGA Major League Soccer Mark Cuban MLB NBA NFL NHL PGA Sports UFC WNBA

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