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Dr. Anthony Fauci lays out plan for sports returning soon without fans

Nation’s top infectious diseases expert says only way professional sports will happen this summer is by holding events without fans in attendance and by keeping players in hotels.

Anthony Rizzo flips a ball during a Cubs workout February in Arizona.
John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

The hurdles are endless.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top doctors in charge of leading the response to the coronavirus pandemic, said sports returning without fans is within the realm of possibility.

The chances of it actually happening depend on a league’s or organization’s ability to procure massive amounts of tests and how closely they monitor their players.

”There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci said on Snapchat’s show “Good Luck America” when asked if there was going to be a college football season in 2020. ”Nobody comes to the stadiums. Put (athletes) in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled, but have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their families and just let them play the season out.”

As for the argument sports won’t be the same without fans in the stands, Fauci expressed what many Americans can relate to.

”I think you’ll probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game, particularly me,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. ”I’m living in Washington, we have the world champion Washington Nationals. I want to see them play again.”

Major League Baseball and its players have been mulling plans to start the season in a single location, likely Arizona, with no fans attending. On Tuesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said his state is willing to host all 30 major-league teams at the time public health concerns allow, which eventually could lead to the start of the baseball season primarily in empty spring training ballparks.

MLB and the players’ association have had preliminary discussion of potential ways for the season to start if given the go-ahead by federal, state and local governments and health officials. Having all teams based in the Phoenix area is among the contingency plans being examined. There are 10 spring training parks plus the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, which has a retractable roof, and several college facilities.

“Arizona, at the right time, is very open minded to hosting whatever Major League Baseball would like from the state,” said Ducey, a Republican. “We have the hotel space that is here. We all want to make certain that the metrics and the data are proper before we’re able to go forward, but I think two words that would allow the country and the state of Arizona to know that things were headed back to normal would be: Play ball!”

Meanwhile, the commissioners of the nation’s major college football conferences held a 30-minute conference call Wednesday with Vice President Mike Pence and stressed that college sports cannot return from the coronavirus shutdown until campuses have re-opened.

The 10 commissioners, along with the athletic director of Notre Dame, comprise the College Football Playoff management committee.

”We were able to talk about the differences between us and professional sports,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said.

The White House has said it is important to re-open the U.S. economy, though the details on how that will happen will be complicated and likely involve local, state and federal guidelines on safety. President Donald Trump has also been engaged with professional sports leagues with the multibillion-dollar sports industry on hold.

The college football season is scheduled to begin Labor Day weekend but many questions remain to be answered.

”(We) made the point we were concerned and wanted to get back to having kids attending college and opening up our colleges and universities,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “That until that happened we weren’t going to be having any sports.”

Bowlsby said another call with the vice president was probable in about a month.

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, who was also on the call, said the semifinals on Jan. 1 in New Orleans and Pasadena, California, and the championship game on Jan. 11 in Miami are still on.