Trump, Newsom at Odds Over Potential Restart of NFL, MLB and Other Pro Sports

John Hickey

The restart of professional sports in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is still a way off, but it appears that President Donald Trump and California Governor Gavin Newsom are ready to butt heads on this, the thorniest issue in sports.

In a conference call with representatives of a dozen pro sports league commissioners and key executives Saturday, Trump said he hoped to have teams and fans in stadiums by August.

Specifically, according to ESPN, the President expects the National Football League season to start on time in September. The start of Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer and the possible restarts of the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League were not specified.

According to a White House pool report, joining the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS commissioners and top executives were representatives of the WNBA, the PGA Tour, the LPGA, UFC, WWE, IndyCar and Breeders' Cup.

When asked about the Trump timeline, Newsom threw cold water on having the NFL open in August or September with teams playing in front of full stadiums, something that presumably would apply to MLB.

“I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” Newsom said. “Let me tell you why. We’ve all seen the headlines the last couple of days in Asia where they were opening up certain businesses. And now they’re starting to roll back those openings because they’re starting to see some spread (of the coronavirus). There’s a boomerang.

“One has to be very careful not to over-promise. It’s interesting. I have a lot of friends that work in Major League Baseball and the NFL. They’ve been asking me – in fact, a well-know athlete just asked me – a football player – if he expects to come back. I said, `I would move very cautiously in that expectation.’

“So, look, I’m not here to second-guess anybody, but I am here to say this: Our decision on that basis, at least here in the State of California, will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts, will be determined by our capacity to meet this moment, bend the curve and have the appropriate community surveillance and testing to confidently determine whether that’s appropriate. And right now, I’m just focused on the immediate, but that’s not something I anticipate happening in the next few months.”

Could the NFL or MLB open without California teams being a part? It seems unlikely. There are five MLB teams based in California – the A’s, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Giants and the Padres. Even after the departure of the Raiders from Oakland for Las Vegas, there are three California NFL teams – the 49ers, the Rams and the Chargers.

Reports are that MLB currently hopes for a start sometime in June, but that a July 4 start remains a possibility for opening day. If the President’s timeline is correct, even a July start might mean MLB would play a month or more in front of no fans.

While the projections of the President and the Governor are wildly different, there’s no way to know if either will prove out. The federal government is mandating social distancing practices through April 30. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is recommending meetings of 50 or more to be banned through May 10.

Those dates are subject to change based on how the COVID-19 virus spreads.