When the Braves will return to play at Truist Park remains uncertain.
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/apointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/apointer@ajc.com

There may be new normal, but team sports inching toward possible return

The sports world is getting closer to a return — albeit anything but normal.

NASCAR returned this weekend with a race at Darlington without spectators. The PGA Tour will resume next month, also without spectators. Leagues around the world, soccer in Germany and baseball in Korea, for example, are playing in empty stadiums.

Team sports in the United States are at different places as they determine when and how they can safely return to competition.

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Here’s an update on where the major leagues, with teams in Atlanta, stand.

NBA

The NBA season has been suspended since March 11 with about a month left in the regular season. Training facilities — including the Hawks’ — are reopening in markets where shelter-in-place restrictions have eased, but it’s still unclear if or when regular-season games will resume. There are restrictions on how many players can be at the facility and there is to be no interaction with coaches.

Chris Paul, Thunder guard and president of the Players’ Association, has said that players are hoping the season will come back, and there’s increasing optimism among team owners and executives that could happen in some capacity, according to ESPN, with decision potentially coming in the next few weeks. One possibility that has been discussed is a “bubble scenario” that would concentrate games in a more controlled environment, such as Disney World in Orlando or Las Vegas, where Summer League takes place.

At this point, it seems unlikely fans would be permitted to attend games, regular-season or playoff, if play were to resume sometime this summer. Commissioner Adam Silver has said that everything is on the table, including delaying the start of next season.

If games don’t resume, the league’s salary cap situation for next year could become even more muddled, as that number is based off league-wide revenue from the previous season. 

MLB

Major League Baseball has been on hold since mid-February, when team’s left training camps. Baseball is hoping for an early July return, though the logistics are complex. Aside from the obvious safety concerns, the owners and players are disputing about money. The owners’ proposal for a 2020 season included a 50-50 revenue split rather than the players earning the pro-rated portion of their salaries that the sides previously agreed on. The players reject any notion of a revenue-sharing model because they view it as a step toward a salary cap.

If the sides can reach middle ground in the coming weeks, the season would be 82 games and feature an expanded postseason. Rosters could be 30 players rather than 26, with an additional 20 on standby. There will be strict guidelines on physical interaction between players. The games would be played in empty stadiums. The schedule will be interdivisional play and the other league’s equivalent (the Braves would face the National League East and American League East, for instance). 

While everyone involved is motivated to bring baseball back, there are enough barriers to leave the concept in doubt. If it does return, this will be one of the most intriguing seasons — and certainly the most interesting format — in baseball history.

MLS

MLS has been suspended since late March, after the league had played two of its 34 rounds.

Most team training facilities, - including Atlanta United’s - are open for voluntary individual workouts with restrictions mandated by the league. The league recently extended a ban on small-ground and team trainings through June 1. 

Sessions can include no more than eight players. The players can only use the outdoor fields. Locker rooms and training rooms are off-limits. 

To maintain distance, the fields are divided into quadrants and players have to stay within their quadrants. The players receive instructions from the coaching staff for their workouts. 

NFL

The NFL has continued operations to a certain degree. The draft was held virtually and the schedule, with dates, was released earlier this month. However, team facilities have been closed since late March. 

Most teams have conducted their offseason programs and rookie minicamps virtually. Some facilities — including the Falcons’ — are set to open back up on Tuesday with a goal of starting training camp and the season on time. Facilities can open in states where they could not be a violation of a local or state order.

Some teams, most notably, the Saints, just skipped the offseason program and just ordered their players to report to training camp in shape.

Teams may have no more than 50% of their staff in the facility, not to exceed 75 people. If a club wants to deploy staff to more than one location, all locations must implement the same health and safety protocols, and the combined number of employees at all locations can’t exceed 75. No members of the coaching staff can return to the facility. No players may be in the facility other than those undergoing medical treatment or rehab. Strength and conditioning coaches participating in player rehab may continue that work in the facility. Members of the personnel, football operations/football administration staff, equipment staff, medical staff, and nutritionists can attend.

-Staff writers Sarah Spencer, Gabriel Burns, Doug Roberson and D. Orlando Ledbetter contributed to this report.

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