Trump Administration Committed to Sports Leagues Restarting as MLB Targets June Return

The White House held a call with chief medical officers from the major U.S. leagues on Tuesday to discuss President Donald Trump's plans to get sports back up and running amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On the call, Seema Verma, an administrator for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, stressed to the leagues that allowing sporting events to return was part of Trump's plans to re-start the American economy.

However, she added the president would allow leagues to resume only in a way that following guidelines set out by health experts.

According to ESPN, Verma also told league officials every option that could allow sports to return while keeping players, staff and fans safe would have to be considered and carefully weighed before making a final decision and she reiterated the importance of adhering to social distancing measures put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Earlier this month, Trump suggested sporting events would resume behind closed doors, with fans barred from stadiums and arenas until the country has overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

"Many [sports] will be starting without the fans, so it will be made for television, the good old days, made for television," the president said on April 16.

"And it will go that way, and maybe the fans will start coming in. Maybe they will be separated by two seats. and then ultimately we want to have packed arenas when the virus is gone. When the virus is gone, we want to have packed arenas and we are going to be back to enjoying sports the way they are supposed to be."

The call on Tuesday was attended by officials form the MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAA, WNBA and College Football Playoff (CFP). Representatives from the PGA Tour, The Masters, PGA of America, NASCAR and the U.S. Tennis Association also participated.

Verma told leagues' officials to expect a sharp increase in the availability of coronavirus tests in the coming months. Point of contact tests, which deliver almost immediate results, are considered crucial to allow sporting events to resume.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who represented the CFP on the call, was quoted as saying. "We learned that there were likely going to be a lot more tests available, both the antibody tests and point of contact tests, which was a good thing for all of the pro guys and colleges.

"They said the number of tests was going to go up dramatically in the coming months. They thought we were going to have the necessary tests to do what we needed to do."

The NBA, NHL, and MLS have been suspended for over a month, while the start of the MLB regular season was postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The NFL remains confident its campaign will kick off as scheduled on September 10, but it appears it will do so behind closed doors.

Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park
The sun rises over Fenway Park on what would have been the home opening day for the Boston Red Sox against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park on April 2 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The game was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox//Getty

Also on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and a key member of Trump's coronavirus task force, admitted it may be very difficult for some sports to return this season.

"Safety, for the players and for the fans, trumps everything," he was quoted as saying by The New York Times.

"If you can't guarantee safety, then unfortunately you're going to have to bite the bullet and say, 'We may have to go without this sport for this season.'"

The conference call between the leagues and the White House came on the same day of two separate reports suggesting baseball could return between June and July.

According to USA Today, the MLB was considering a three-division, 10-team plan in which teams play only within their division. The report added MLB officials are "cautiously optimistic" baseball will return in late June and no later than July 2, with games played behind closed doors in major ballparks.

The three-division plan would temporarily scrap the traditional American League and National League boundaries, with teams grouped into a division based on geography.

That would have the two-fold effect of sharply reducing travel, while allowing players to remain at home. The plan marks a sharp change in dynamic from a proposal floated earlier this month, which would involve all 30 franchises playing games at Chase Field, the home of Arizona Diamondbacks, in Phoenix and at other ballparks in the Phoenix area.

Meanwhile, The Athletic reported that the MLB considered the period between late June and July 4 the "most realistic time range for Opening Day." Under the plan, the regular season would feature anything between 80 and 100 games and stretch all the way into October.

Under the proposal, the World Series would be held in late November and possibly even December and all games would be played behind closed doors.

News of the proposal came on the same day as the number of coronavirus in the U.S. climbed above the one million mark, by far the highest toll in the world.

As of Wednesday morning, over 58,300 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. and almost 116,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

Over 217,200 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus began in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There have been more than 3.1 million confirmed cases globally.