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#SportsReport: NHL To Move Straight Into Playoffs; MLB Players Disappointed By Economic Proposal

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The NHL will abandon the rest of the regular season and go straight into the playoffs with 24 teams instead of 16 if it is able to resume play. The decision, announced Tuesday by Commissioner Gary Bettman, is not a guarantee that games are coming back. The NHL and the NHL Players' Association must still figure out health and safety protocols and solve other issues, including where to play.

Still, ironing out the format represents significant progress since global sports were largely shut down in March as the coronavirus outbreak turned into a pandemic. Bettman has said the goal has always been to play again and award the Stanley Cup, but details remain uncertain. Instead of limiting the Cup chase to the usual 16 teams that qualify for the playoffs, the league and players agreed to expand the field to 24 of its 31 teams because of the unusual circumstances. The top four teams in each conference ranked by points percentage will play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding. The remaining 16 teams will be seeded by conference. Games are expected to be played in two hub cities and Bettman said and 10 are in the running: Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis/St. Paul in the U.S. and Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.

In other virus-related sports news:

A rookie at the major league minimum would make a higher percentage of his salary than multimillionaire stars like Mike Trout or Gerrit Cole under a sliding-scale proposal by big league teams that players found "extremely disappointing." Major League Baseball made the proposal to the players' union on Tuesday during a digital meeting rather than the 50-50 revenue-sharing plan that owners initially approved for their negotiators on May 11. In addition, the union said "the sides also remain far apart on health and safety protocols" aimed at starting the pandemic-delayed season around the Fourth of July. Salaries in the major leagues range from $563,500 at the minimum to $36 million each for Trout, the three-time MVP outfielder on the Los Angeles Angels, and Cole, the pitcher signed by the New York Yankees as a free agent. According to a study by The AP, 369 of 899 players have salaries of $600,000 or less, according to the rosters frozen in March.

The Oakland Athletics are placing their scouts and selected other front office employees on furlough and cutting the salaries of other executives as part of a cost-cutting move in response to the pandemic. A person familiar with the plans said Tuesday that the furloughs will begin next week, although the team's amateur scouts are expected to stay on through the draft June 10-11. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team hadn't announced the moves. The furloughs will apply to professional and amateur scouts and other front office employees on the business side. The A's will continue to pay the health care, 401K and pension costs for their employees.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says there definitely will be an NFL season in 2020. In an interview on CNBC, Ross says the question is whether there will be fans in the stadiums. The NFL has said it expects to play a full schedule beginning Sept. 10 but is preparing contingency plans in case the pandemic makes venue changes or games without fans necessary. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Tuesday that as long as the NFL's Giants and Jets and the NHL's Devils follow health and medical protocols, they could open training camps or even hold competition. 

World TeamTennis says it is planning to allow up to 500 spectators at outdoor matches during its three-week season from July 12 to Aug. 2 at a resort in West Virginia. All tennis events sanctioned by the ATP, WTA and International Tennis Federation are on hold at least until late July. But World TeamTennis is not affiliated with those tours and no ATP or WTA ranking points are available for its matches. World TeamTennis is increasing its prize money to $5 million. That is $1.5 million more than for its 2019 season.

Kyle Busch says he supports wearing a mask in public so "we all can take care of our neighbor" amid the pandemic. It's a rare instance of the two-time NASCAR champion wading into a social issue. Busch entered the debate after images from short tracks over the weekend showed packed grandstands with little social distancing and few people wearing masks. He retweeted a photo from South Alabama Speedway in Ozark, Alabama, and added his own message. Busch applauded fans for supporting their local short tracks but suggested mandatory masks for admission for "healthier practices." The reigning Cup Series champion rarely speaks on non-racing issues.

Formula One carmaker McLaren says 1,200 jobs will be lost across its entire group's operations. It was not immediately clear how the cuts would affect the group's F1 operation. The sport has yet to start its 2020 season amid the pandemic. The cuts represent about a quarter of the group's workforce.

The top men's soccer league in Ukraine will resume Saturday in empty stadiums after a suspension. The Ukrainian Premier League says it has received approval from the country's health ministry to restart. No games have been played since March 15.

THOROUGHBRED RACING

Published reports say that two horses from the barn of two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert have tested positive for a banned substance. The New York Times and Louisville Courier-Journal have cited unidentified sources in reporting the positive tests occurred during the recent meet at Oaklawn in Arkansas. The Times says one of the horses to test positive for lidocaine was Charlatan, considered a top contender for the Belmont Stakes in June. Baffert says he's disappointed the Arkansas Racing Commission has violated its rules about confidentiality until the stewards have weighed in with a ruling. 

COLLEGE ADMISSIONS BRIBERY

A Pennsylvania man has pleaded guilty to bribing Georgetown University's former tennis coach to get his daughter admitted as a fake athletic recruit. Robert Repella pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 10 months in prison and a $40,000 fine. Charging documents released Tuesday say Repella paid Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst $50,000 in 2017 to get his daughter admitted as an athlete. Repella is the 55th person to be charged in the nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

LUGE

Duncan Kennedy, one of the top sliders in USA Luge history and a three-time qualifier for the Olympics, has been hired as an assistant coach by Luge Canada. Kennedy will be based in Lake Placid, New York. He was the first USA Luge athlete to win a World Cup race when he prevailed at Sigulda, Latvia in 1991. He competed in the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Olympics and is a three-time World Cup overall season medalist, placing second twice and third once. The upcoming luge World Cup season is scheduled to begin at Innsbruck, Austria on Nov. 28.

NBA

Washington Wizards point guard John Wall says he is fully recovered after two operations that sidelined him for the past 1½ years. He also says he is "itching" to get back on the court next season. The five-time All-Star has not played in an NBA game since December 2018. Surgery for bone spurs in his left heel ended that season and while he was working his way back from that, he tore his left Achilles tendon and needed another operation in 2019. That held Wall out for all the current season, which was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. He spoke during a video call to discuss his relief program to help pay rent for people in the nation's capital affected by the outbreak.

© The Associated Press 2020. All Rights Reserved.