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California Governor Newsom's Plan a Formidable Hurdle for Pro Sports to Reopen

Athletics, Giants, Warriors and 49ers among the California teams who may not be able to have fans in the stands for quite a while yet under Gov. Gavin Newsom's four phase plan to combat COVID-19.

In the last week, the National Football League has announced its 2020 schedule, Major League Baseball is rumored to have set a July 1-ish opening date with games to be played in home stadiums and a number of National Basketball Association teams have said they will open their practice facilities Monday.

That’s one side of the equation.

On the other side is California Gov. Gavin Newsom. He’s not discounting games being played in spectator-free facilities, but he and the state government will be an impediment to getting spectator sports up to speed.

“It’s difficult to imagine a stadium that’s filled until we have immunity and until we have a vaccine,” Newsom said Thursday. “There are conditions that persist in this state and this nation that make re-opening very, very challenging.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who calls himself a Washington Nationals fan and who has said he believes baseball could come back without fans in the stands, is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. He’s said the country could have a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine by January.

No vaccine has ever been developed that quickly, but Fauci points out that never has there been a push like the current one.

With the vaccine still off in the distance, Newsom is willing to usher California into the second of his proposed four-phase re-opening process in the coming days. And while that’s good for some retail stores that will be able to open with curbside service, it doesn’t do anything for professional or collegiate sports.

Having fans at sporting events won’t come until phase four, which will only come after a vaccine is generally available and immunity to COVID-19 has built up.

It’s difficult to see how MLB, the NFL, the NBA and the National Hockey League get going without California signing off. There are five MLB franchises (A’s, Giants, Dodgers, Angels and Padres), three NFL franchises (49ers, Rams and Chargers), four NBA franchises (Warriors, Kings, Lakers and Clippers) and three NHL franchises (Sharks, Kings and Ducks).

For now, at least, Newsom holds the hammer, and he seems more than willing to use it in his bid to keep California’s coronavirus numbers in check as best he can.

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“It’s difficult for me to imagine what the … leagues do when one or two of their key personnel or players have tested positive,” Newsom said. “Do they quarantine the rest of the team? If an offensive lineman is practice with a defensive lineman, and they have tested positive, what happens to the rest of the line?

“What happens to the game coming up the next weekend? It’s inconceivable to me that that’s not a likely scenario.”

The Kings are ready to join the Trail Blazers, Nuggets and Cavaliers in being ready to open practice facilities on Monday. The Warriors, Clippers and Lakers are not, although all three would like to open sometime this month if possible.

MLB owners are in the process of reaching out to the players’ union about a July 1 opening, which would include an approximate three-week buildup that would essentially be a second spring training.

The NHL has held open the possibility that if it returns, it might jump right into an expanded playoff system, and a decision on reopening workout facilities could come soon.

Newsom, who classifies himself as a sports fan, has been in contact with officials from most leagues. They know they need California to be on board with any sports league restart.

He’s already scuttled one restart. In April, UFC planned to have a fight card take place on Native American land near Fresno, an area that isn’t subject to state law. However, Newsom pushed on ESPN, which was down to televise the event, and ESPN’s parent company, Disney. The event was called off and rescheduled for Florida.

At the same time, he would like to bring back sports because of the sense of community involvement and local pride they engender.

“It’s a very tough questions for these leagues to answer, because they must have a safety-field, health-first mind-set,” he said. “And there are conditions that persist. [Leagues] should be very, very sensitive to the needs of the community.”

Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3

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