A path forward: NBA, NHL and MLB tinker with restart options

              A pedestrian wears a hat and a face mask on Sunset Blvd., in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Thursday, April 2, 2020. Major League Baseball opening day was to have been Thursday, March 26, but was pushed back to mid-May at the earliest because of the coronavirus outbreak. The spring training schedule was cut short on March 12 because on the pandemic, and it remains unclear when and if baseball can resume. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

While the world wrestles with the coronavirus pandemic, the three biggest U.S.-based sports leagues currently affected by the crisis are trying to figure out if, how and where games can be safely played again this year.

The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball have some similar constraints: Public and player health are the most pressing issues and any decisions would have to come with widespread federal, state and local support. But there are also individual challenges for each league, which have unique schedules and playing arrangements that could affect logistics.

All three have discussed the possibility of essentially quarantining their players in cities for long periods to play games in a safe environment.

Dr. Patrick Mularoni, who is the medical director of sports medicine at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, says it’s possible, at least on paper.

“You’d have to completely isolate the players, staff, coaches, medical staff and likely food-service workers until 14 days. They’d all have to be willing to do that,” Mularoni said. “And the logistics of having that number of people not make a mistake is the difficulty there. But once you do that, if they are all together and working together, once they’re together, you should be fine because essentially what you created is an oasis where people who have proven that they do not have COVID can be.”

A Q&A prepared by some of AP’s beat writers on where leagues are with their plans:


Q: If safe, how would play resume and when?

The NBA is looking at countless restart options, but a consistent theme throughout them calls for a training camp of at least two weeks for teams to get back into some sort of basketball shape. It would seem likely that teams would be quarantined at that time. No decision has been made about whether to resume some of the regular season or go right into the playoffs, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said his league won’t decide anything definitively until at least May.

Q: Where would games be held?

The idea of having one or two sites for games has been discussed, with Las Vegas and Los Angeles among them. The league has explored several possible sites, for preparation purposes, but has not entered into any concrete deals anyplace.

Q: Would fans be allowed?

Almost certainly not, at least not at first, unless social distancing guidelines are lifted and public health officials say it is safe.

Q: Could they shorten the playoffs?

Absolutely. The best-of-seven format could be abandoned for a best-of-five or possibly less, though the NBA seems adamant at this point that — if the season is going to resume — it wants as legitimate a champion as possible.

Q: What other precautions would the NBA take?

The ball itself could be a major issue. NBA players sweat, and sweat a lot. That sweat gets on the floor, gets on other players, but the one thing in the game that everyone is touching is the same ball.

— Tim Reynolds reporting from Miami.