The Associated Press
Houston Texans superstar J.J. Watt hopes there are fans in the stands when the NFL season kicks off this fall.
“We love our fans and (having their) energy, the excitement, the adrenaline, it makes it what it is,” Watt said Wednesday.
But if fans aren’t allowed in stadiums because of the coronavirus pandemic, it won’t change anything about how the defensive end plays.
“As an athlete, as a competitor you can play in front of no fans,” Watt said. “We want to go out there and compete. It doesn’t matter if it’s a practice against another team, it doesn’t matter if it’s a practice against our own team, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the weight room against yourself, you’re always looking to compete.”
The NFL season is scheduled to open Sept. 10 when the Texans travel to face the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Watt said he doesn’t have any inside information as to whether the season will begin as planned amid the pandemic, but he’s working on the assumption that it will.
The pause in the NHL season has allowed the hard-luck Columbus Blue Jackets to get healthy again.
The Blue Jackets had a group of veterans sidelined and were patching together lines with rookies when the season was halted in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now with plans for the playoffs moving forward for this summer, Columbus is expected to be at near full strength, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a conference call Wednesday with reporters.
That includes star defenseman Seth Jones and the team’s leading scorer, Oliver Bjorkstrand, both of whom had broken a foot. And goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins will be healthy simultaneously for the time since late December.
In the 24-team playoff plan announced by the NHL on Tuesday, the Blue Jackets will play the Toronto Maple Leafs in a best-of-five qualifying series.
“Now it’s time to put what we learned this year to good use and make sure it’s not wasted,” Columbus captain Nick Foligno said. “If we’re going to get healthier, then the bar gets raised.”
The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks are considering moving training camp to the United States because of Canada’s 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for those arriving in the country.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning says the team is still in the early stages of that possibility. He said he has talked to colleagues with other Canadian teams about the quarantine regulation and how it might put them at a competitive disadvantage.
The NHL on Tuesday unveiled a 24-team playoff format if it can return this summer but said camps aren’t expected to begin before July 1.
Some assistant coaches and sports department support staff will lose their jobs as Youngstown State University eliminates 22 positions as part of budget cuts related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Athletic director Ron Stollo said about half of the 22 are coaching positions. The school has 21 intercollegiate sports, and none are being eliminated.
Strollo said as an enrollment-boosting measure the school had added men’s swimming and women’s lacrosse and doubled the size of the men’s and women’s cross-country teams before the pandemic and uncertainty about the future adversely affected revenue.
The personnel cuts and other moves in the sports department are expected to save $2 million, said Strollo, who along with coaches took pay cuts ranging from 6% to 10%.
New football coach Doug Phillips was in the process of hiring his coaching staff when the school was forced to shut down. Four positions in the football program will be eliminated, Strollo said, but they don’t include any on-field coaching personnel.
The Premier League says four people from three clubs have tested positive for the coronavirus in the third round of testing in the last 10 days as teams return to training.
The league did not identify whether the people infected with COVID-19 are players or club staff. There were tests on 1,008 people.
English soccer was suspended in March and hopes to restart next month.
A 16-player team tennis event featuring Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu will take part at the LTP Daniel Island in Charleston, South Carolina, next month.
The Credit One Bank Invitation will also include Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. It will be played from June 23-28.
Organizers say the event will be conducted without fans. The facility had been scheduled to host the Volvo Car Open this past April, but the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The event will work with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to ensure safety and health protocols are adhered to. To minimize people necessary on site, players will call their own lines and get assistance from only one ball person and one official on court.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has announced a multimillion-dollar commitment through the team’s foundation to provide jobs and food during the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Monday at the Dolphins’ stadium, the initiative will give out a minimum of 1,000 meals each weekday for up to 12 months. On Sundays, the Dolphins will work with churches and community groups to purchase food from restaurants to provide a minimum of 1,000 meals.
The team said Ross will invest at least $2 million, and with matching donations the goal is a $4 million total impact. The program will generate jobs and revenue for the restaurant industry, and employ guest services and security staff at the stadium, the Dolphins said.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has approved Keeneland’s request for a five-day, spectator-free meet July 8-12 that will allow the running of marquee prep races for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby and Oaks.
Keeneland canceled its 16-day spring meet in March amid public health concerns because of the coronavirus outbreak. That initially eliminated the $600,000 Grade 2 Blue Grass and $400,000 Grade 1 Ashland, which award points toward the Derby and its sister race for fillies, Oaks. The track last week requested the special meet, which the KHRC granted after Ellis Park made the dates available.
The Ashland and Blue Grass are now back in play for the Oaks and Derby, which are set for Sept. 4-5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
“Keeneland appreciates the quick response of the Commission to our request, and we applaud all their work on behalf of Kentucky racing during these unprecedented times,” said Keeneland President/CEO Bill Thomason, who also thanked Ellis Park in a news release.
Added Ellis Park general manager Jeffrey Inman, “We are all in this together, and Ellis Park is pleased to work with Keeneland on a plan that benefits our horsemen and Kentucky racing.”
Keeneland plans to run at least nine races each day and will feature 10 graded stakes events.
The Kontinental Hockey League says it plans to return on Sept. 2 to open the 2020-21 season.
The last KHL game was played on March 12. The season was then suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The KHL is widely considered to be the strongest hockey league outside the NHL. It ended its 2019-20 season part-way through the playoffs without declaring a champion.
The league says Sept. 2 is a preliminary date which could be subject to “necessary corrections” depending on how the coronavirus situation develops.
International travel restrictions became a problem for KHL teams. The league has teams in six countries but most are in Russia.
The projected Sept. 2 start date is broadly in line with other recent KHL seasons.
The French soccer federation has rejected the league’s bid for a 22-team second division next season to save clubs from being relegated.
The French league voted last week to allow Le Mans and Orléans to stay in the second division while Pau and Dunkerque were promoted from the third division. But the executive committee of French soccer’s governing body has overruled that decision.
The FFF says that “the two relegations for the 2019-20 season are maintained and the second division will remain at 20 clubs for the 2020-21 season.”
The French government ordered soccer and rugby leagues to be canceled at the end of April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bologna says a member of its staff may have coronavirus and if it is confirmed the entire squad will go into quarantine.
Bologna says the latest series of tests revealed “a suspected positive case for COVID-19.”
The club says that as a precaution the team will train individually on Thursday.
It would be the first positive case in Serie A since the teams started training in groups if it is confirmed.
Serie A has been suspended since March 9 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is hoping to restart on June 13.
The Spanish soccer federation says it will allow games to be played on Mondays and Fridays until the end of the season even though a judge has denied the Spanish league’s official request to play on those days.
League president Javier Tebas has said he wants matches to be played every day but the federation had been against the idea.
The federation says it “wants to clearly show its good will” and is also willing to extend the exception into the beginning of next season depending on how the pandemic progresses and if games will continue to be played without fans.
The league says it will appeal the judge’s decision. It says it jeopardizes the soccer industry in Spain. The league was not able to schedule matches on Mondays before the competition was suspended in mid-March.
Premier League clubs have voted unanimously to resume contact training in the latest step toward restarting the soccer season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The league says players are now able to train as a group and “engage in tackling while minimizing any unnecessary close contact.”
Play has been suspended in the world’s richest league since March 13.
The league says “discussions are ongoing as work continues toward resuming the season.”
Players returned to training last week and have been practicing in small groups with social distancing maintained.
The final Asian qualifying place for the women’s soccer tournament at the Tokyo Olympics is set to be decided in February.
The Asian Football Confederation says the postponed two-leg series between China and South Korea will be played Feb. 19 and 24. No venues for the games were announced.
The games were previously postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed for one year.
The 12-team women’s tournament is scheduled to start in Japan ahead of the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23, 2021.