When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, the United States is one of the most dangerous places to be on earth.
The U.S. reported nearly 50,000 new positive cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, breaking a single day record for the country. Texas reached a new high of cases on Wednesday and Florida had a positive test rate of over 15% on Tuesday, more than double the national average. Though the mortality rate is still lower than in weeks past, the current state of this country in terms of the virus is giving at least one league some pause.
After MLS club FC Dallas had nine players test positive over the last two days upon arriving at the league’s Orlando bubble at Walt Disney World, the Los Angeles Times reported late Wednesday night that the MLS Is Back tournament now may be in doubt, especially if an entire team like Dallas has to quarantine for two weeks. The story said that at least three teams pushed back flights to Orlando, less than a week before the tourney is scheduled to begin on July 8.
All these developments makes the NHL’s expected plan to restart its 2019-2020 season look downright genius. It seems so simple: Just play the games outside the United States. Reports from TSN, ESPN and The Athletic on Wednesday, Canada Day up north, suggest that hockey will stage its 24-team postseason in two Canadian hub cities, Toronto for the Eastern Conference and Edmonton for the Western Conference.
Ontario, Toronto’s province, has seen just over 35,000 total cases (1 in 383 people) and 2,672 total deaths (1 in 5,033 people) from coronavirus. Alberta, Edmonton’s province, has had 8,108 cases (1 in 502 people) and 154 deaths (1 in 26,410 people).
On Monday, Las Vegas “was considered a shoo-in” to host the 12 western teams, according to The Athletic, but a sudden spike in coronavirus cases in the area eliminated them from contention, along with reports that nearby hotel and casino employees were testing positive. Clark County, Nevada, where Vegas is, has seen its seven-day average of positive new cases nearly triple according to a New York Times
NYT interactive map, to 589 on Wednesday from 205 two weeks ago.
The NBA has to hope that its 22 teams coming to Orlando next week for its July 30 restart doesn’t suffer the same fate as FC Dallas. Orange County, Florida, where Orlando is, saw its seven-day average rise from 175 positive cases two weeks ago to 688 on Wednesday, per the Times. The Brooklyn Nets saw two of its players, DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie, test positive in their home market this week even before traveling down to Florida.
Major League Baseball began its summer camp this week to prepare for a planned 60-game regular season in home markets. To reduce travel, teams are only going to be playing games within their own geographic divisions, the American and National League East, Central and West respectively. That still may not be enough in what will be a dangerous balancing act.
In addition to a skyrocketing amount of cases in Florida, home to the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins, Arizona, home to the Diamondbacks, is reporting more new coronavirus cases per day than the entire European Union despite the EU having more than 60 times the state’s population.
Texas, home to the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, are also seeing alarming rates, while California, home to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics, imposed new restrictions in 19 different counties to try and stem the tide of rising cases.
Then there’s the NFL, which will reportedly reduce the number of preseason games from four to two or even fewer. But it seems like pro football is currently full steam ahead in trying to stage as normal a 2020 season as it can in its home markets. It’s even, according to an Athletic report, considering letting fans into games but requiring them to sign a liability waiver that would protect its 32 teams from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
The longer the U.S. goes while coronavirus remains a huge issue, the more foolish sports leagues may end up looking trying to stage seasons in America. By delaying its decision and, most likely, holding the rest of its season in Canada, the NHL has positioned itself as the major North American sports league with the greatest chance at a successful restart in 2020.