The NHL is taking a major step toward formulating the return of its season during the coronavirus pandemic. A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press the NHL Players' Association's executive board is voting on a 24-team playoff proposal as they return to play format. Results of the vote could be in as soon as Friday night.
Under the plan, the top four teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences would play each other for seeding while the remaining 16 teams face off in a best-of-five series play-in round to set the final 16. That would mean byes for Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the East and defending champion St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas in West. Even if the executive board votes to approve the format, the league and players union still need to negotiate other details, including health and safety protocols. But the format is a substantial piece of the return to play puzzle to award the Stanley Cup this season.
In other developments related to the coronavirus pandemic:
The Major League Baseball Players Association has given management a wide-ranging response to a 67-page proposed set of protocols for a season to be played during the coronavirus pandemic. The union says it addressed protections for high-risk players, access to pre- and postgame therapies, testing frequency, protocols for positive tests, in-stadium medical personnel and sanitization procedures. Players viewed many of the concepts in the original draft submitted last week as over-the-top, such as arriving in uniform at the ballparks, a prohibition on them leaving without team permission and a ban on guests other than immediate family members. Players also objected to a ban on the use of showers and hydrotherapy. That said, the union wants more frequent testing than management's proposed "multiple times per week." MLB is expected to make an economic proposal to the union within a few days.
Following a similar move by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has called off its August induction ceremony in Saratoga Springs. The museum says the ceremony planned for August 7th will be moved to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Horse racing is allowed to resume in New York without spectators.
East Carolina University is eliminating its men's and women's tennis and swimming and diving programs to help reduce a $4.9 million budget deficit created by the pandemic. The move affects 68 student-athletes and nine coaches and reduces ECU's sponsored sports from 20 to 16, including nine for women. The NCAA requires Division I FBS schools to carry minimums of 16 sports, eight for women.
IndyCar has altered its schedule again, cancelling the June 27 race at Richmond and the July 12 street course event in Toronto. The open-wheel series is slated to finally begin June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, but its next event won't be held until July 4 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race scheduled for June 21 at Road America in Wisconsin has been changed to a doubleheader on July 11-12.
Golf Digest is reporting the European Tour hopes to resume its season in England the first weekend in August as part of a four-tournament "bubble" in the UK. The magazine cited sources as saying the British Masters would be followed by two tournaments in England and one in Wales at Celtic Manor for 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in prize money. The European Tour has postponed nine tournaments and canceled eight others on its schedule because of COVID-19. In a memo, the European Tour says priority rankings will stay the same for 2021 and there will not be Q-school.
Boxing promoter Bob Arum says he plans to stage a card of five fights on June 9 at the MGM Grand, the first of a series of fights over the next two months at the Las Vegas hotel. A second fight card will be held two nights later, kicking off twice weekly shows at the hotel in June and July. No fans will be allowed, and Arum said fighters and everyone else will be tested at least twice during fight week for the new coronavirus.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is eliminating 51 positions and furloughing 33 more as part of a dramatic cut in staffing. The move is designed to trim up to 20% of its budget to respond to shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic. CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote in a letter sent to Olympic stakeholders that 32 employees had been offered different roles in the organization, setting up the possibility that not all the eliminated or furloughed positions will result in a temporary or permanently lost jobs.
Swimming's governing body has postponed the short course world championships for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. FINA says the championships scheduled for December in Abu Dhabi will now be staged Dec. 13-18, 2021, in the United Arab Emirates because of the "the uncertainty related with the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide."
The Cubs and Pirates are making tough financial decisions concerning their front office staff with the major league season still on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. A person with direct knowledge of the situation says the Cubs are instituting pay cuts based on compensation, but there will be no furloughs through the end of June. The Pirates announced today that they are instituting furloughs for several employees in business operations beginning on June 1. The Cardinals and Twins have informed their employees there won't be any pays cuts or furloughs through the end of June.
The NFL is considering adding a "booth umpire" and a senior technology adviser to the referee to assist the officiating crew. The league also is looking at other rule changes, including an alternative to the onside kick. NFL clubs received a list of potential rules changes on Thursday. Owners will vote on the proposals at the upcoming league meeting to be held by video conference on May 28. If owners don't approve adding a booth umpire and/or a senior technology adviser, the league could test a version of both rules in the preseason for possible future implementation. The proposal that would give teams another option instead of an onside kick permits a team to maintain possession of the ball after a score by substituting one offensive play. The kicking team would attempt a fourth-and-15 from its 25-yard line. This could be done a maximum of two times per game. Onside kicks have become infrequent and rarely successful since the NFL changed rules on alignments for kickoffs.
An NFL player is suing United Airlines, saying he was harassed and sexually assaulted by an intoxicated female passenger on a red-eye flight in February. The player said in a lawsuit that soon after boarding the cross-country flight, a woman sitting in the same row confronted him over his face mask, ripped it off the and groped him. The NFL player and a companion who joined the lawsuit were not named. United confirms there was some sort of incident and a passenger was moved to a different seat but says it won't comment further.
Tom Brady's journey to each of his nine Super Bowls with the New England Patriots will be the subject of an ESPN series released in 2021. Titled "The Man in the Arena: Tom Brady," the nine-episode series will include a look from Brady's perspective at his six NFL titles and three Super Bowl defeats.
Clemson receiver Justyn Ross will have shoulder surgery next month to alleviate an issue that cropped up during the team's spring workouts in March. Ross led the Tigers with 66 catches last season that went for 865 yards and eight touchdowns. He had 1,000 yards receiving as a freshman, highlighting his season with a 74-yard TD in the national championship win over Alabama. The Alabama native is considered a first-round NFL draft pick in 2021 should he choose to forego his final year in college.
Vanderbilt has removed the interim title and made Candice Storey Lee the first woman to run a Southeastern Conference athletics program. Lee is one of only five women and the second black woman in charge of a Power Five program. Incoming chancellor Daniel Diermeier said Lee is the "living embodiment" of the university's values and aspirations. The 41-year-old Lee is a former Commodores basketball captain. She took over as interim athletic director on Feb. 4 when Malcolm Turner resigned after one year on the job.
Court papers show actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have agreed to plead guilty to charges that will include prison time in the college admissions bribery case. Loughlin has agreed to serve two months behind bars and Giannulli has accepted a five-month sentence under the deal, which must be approved by the judge. They will plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges of money laundering and federal programs bribery that were added after the case was filed. An attorney for the couple declined to comment. Loughlin and Giannulli were accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California as crew team recruits.
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