The NBA has a tentative plan for its reopening – – sort of. I say “sort of” not to mock or deride their announcement of a plan but to recognize what the league itself knows:
- Events created by the COVID-19 pandemic can demand changes in plans and behaviors. The NBA told the teams at the end of its description of a phased opening that it “may push this timing back if developments warrant.”
The reopening plan calls for practice facilities to open in a measured way starting on May 8th. The idea of a “measured way” can be recognized by some of the limits on what can happen in the practice facilities as of May 8th:
- The practice facilities are intended to provide venues for “limited individual workouts”. Head coaches and assistant coaches are not to be present for these “limited individual workouts”.
- No more than four players may be present in the practice facility at a given time.
- There are to be no scrimmages.
- Players must wear a mask when not working out.
- Any team employee – such as part of the training staff – present in the facility must wear masks and gloves and must remain 12 feet away from any players or one another.
Obviously, the NBA is taking the lead among major US sports to move toward reopening and it is doing it cautiously. Over and above the league’s caution, there is one other important caveat involved here that can override this announced date to begin reopening:
- Practice facilities will only be opened in places where the activities permitted in those facilities would comply with state and local regulations such as stay-at-home orders. [Translation: The NBA has no interest in being a scofflaw and getting into an adversarial posture with mayors and governors.]
May 8th is ten days from today. For every team to be able to open its own practice facility and not go looking for one in a different venue, a lot of states and local jurisdictions are going to have to lift existing stay-at-home orders. There are 30 NBA teams; if I have counted correctly, they “reside” in 21 states, the District of Columbia and Ontario, Canada. Just to highlight the complexity of that issue, as of this morning:
- The Oklahoma City Thunder would be able to follow the NBA rules on May 8th as there are plans for Oklahoma to reopen before then.
- The LA Clippers and Lakers play in a city where the mayor has said he cannot envision the return of sports to the city before Thanksgiving.
Without attempting to choose sides in the debate between epidemiology and economics, I think we can all agree that the positions currently taken by the officials in Oklahoma and Georgia differ significantly from those taken by the officials in California and New York. Moreover, it is not likely that the NBA will be the go-between to resolve calmly and rationally those significant differences.
One of the phrases that has become commonplace in English over the past couple of years is to label statements and ideas as “aspirational”. I am completely fed-up with that label because what it really means is that the statement or the idea getting the label has now been shown to be “ignorant” or “impossible” – – but we would not want to say such a nasty thing about a person or an idea and we call it “aspirational”. Bullspit!
I think this is the exception that proves the rule. I think the NBA’s reopening plan is indeed “aspirational”. The NBA knows that this timeline may not happen; they probably know that this timeline is unlikely to happen; at the same time they are “hopeful” – which is a synonym for “aspirational” while “ignorant” and “impossible” are not – that they can begin to get back to normal starting on May 8, 2020.
Another sport – not nearly as visible as the NBA – has announced its plans to resume competition. USA Swimming – the national governing body for swimming here – said that it will resume regional events in August leading up to national events in November 2020. Those events from August through November are part of a process that will lead to the competition that selects the US Olympic Swimming Team for next summer’s Games in Tokyo.
Once again, the announcement of these plans is tentative and depends on any restrictions that may exist at the state and local levels. A statement issued by the CEO of USA Swimming makes it clear that things might have to change:
“I think everything is taken with a grain of salt and maybe even more than one grain of salt. “We’re trying to bring normalcy back when it’s not normal, and we know that. But we have to have a Plan A, a Plan B and even a Plan C.”
Finally, why are “reopening plans” worthy of comment? Let me leave you today with an item from Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times:
“Think those Nebraskans are football-crazy? This year’s Cornhuskers’ spring game drew a crowd of 20,000.
“That’s 20,000 — as in people remotely tuning in to watch a simulated eSports version after the real game was canceled.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………