12:30pm: Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweets that an announcement that MLB is “suspending operations” is expected in the near future. Joel Sherman of the New York Post adds that the conference call between MLB owners and commissioner Rob Manfred will take place in an hour.
12:15pm: Passan tweets that in the wake of a conference call between all 30 MLB ownership groups, the owners are expecting not only the suspension of Spring Training games but also a delay to the start of the regular season.
11:22am: As sports entities throughout the world take action to minimize the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Major League Baseball appears poised to cease play of Spring Training games. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that officials with Grapefruit League clubs in Florida are expecting games to be suspended, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that executives throughout Major League Baseball expect that Spring Training play in both the Grapefruit League and Cactus League will be suspended as soon as today. A conference call between commissioner Rob Manfred and all 30 MLB owners will be conducted shortly, Passan adds.
Suspending play of spring contests is a logical first step for the league. The games don’t count for anything, and teams can continue to ramp up players for the season in simulated settings — although it’s not yet clear just when the season for which they’ll be prepping will begin. Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that the majority of team executives to whom he has spoken are expecting a delay in the start of the season, although there’s yet to be any word from Major League Baseball itself on that front.
Beyond the likely suspension of MLB exhibition play, it’s worth noting that the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, the Association of Tennis Professionals and the PGA Tour have all announced measures to curb the spread of the virus since last night. The NBA suspended its season indefinitely last night, and both MLS (30 days) and ATP (six weeks) followed with suspensions of play this morning. The NHL has canceled practice throughout the league and is readying a statement of its own.
Meanwhile, the PGA just minutes ago announced that the Players Championship will be played without fans in attendance. That’s the same approach the NCAA has taken with regard to its annual March Madness tournament. Meanwhile, individual college conferences throughout the league — the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12 and the ACC among them — have taken to canceling their annual conference tournaments. Overseas, the Korea Baseball Organization and Nippon Professional Baseball have both delayed the starts of their respective seasons.
Actions beyond the immediate suspension of spring contests remain unclear, but quelling the spread of the COVID-19 virus has become paramount. The potential for asymptomatic carriers spreading the virus to higher-risk individuals is a real threat — both to the health of those at-risk individuals and to the functionality of hospitals and medical facilities. Italy’s hospitals have become overwhelmed as the spread of the virus has reached critical levels, complicating medical care for patients of the coronavirus and other illnesses alike. Certainly, it’s in everyone’s best interest to avoid similar levels of saturation in other countries.
While the postponement or even cancellation of sporting events, concerts and other mass gatherings is surely a frustrating development for fans — and one that will raise questions of fan reimbursement, player compensation and myriad other issues within individual sports — those realities will be characterized as a necessary byproduct in the effort to combat what the World Health Organization has characterized as a global pandemic.