Coronavirus: Mike DeWine on where sports fit in Ohio’s reopening plans

Could sports – professional, college and youth – be played again in Ohio this year?

Gov. Mike DeWine said yes to all three in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on Wednesday, but he added a couple of caveats.

There likely would be no fans present, at least at first, and everything is subject to the coronavirus pandemic remaining manageable in the state.

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“Our ability to continue practicing social distancing and continue preventing this virus from spreading will determine what this summer is going to look like,” he said. “That’s the summary. We want to be prepared. We want to give people the guidelines of how we intend to do it, but we can’t go back to normal. If we go back to normal, this thing will take off like a wildfire and it’s just not going to work.

“So much is going to depend on what each of us do individually and collectively to keep it from spreading. That’s it. If things stay as they are now, and as they are now is (the virus) is still here, it’s still dangerous, but it’s not overwhelming our hospitals and it’s not picking up dramatically, so it’s still very lethal. If you’ve got a health problem, you better be extra careful. If you’re over 60, certainly over 70, your fatality rate goes up dramatically if you get it.”

As is the case with salons, restaurants and other businesses, DeWine said he has formed separate working groups to determine best practices for professional sports and youth sports to be able to get going again, but he also acknowledged leagues such as Major League Baseball will determine what their products look like when and if they return.

“The leagues are gonna have to come up with a plan, which I know they’re going to, and assuming that plan makes sense, I can certainly see baseball being played this summer in Cleveland and Cincinnati,” he said.

>>Here is how Ohio’s restaurants and bars will reopen

MLB suspended spring training March 12, around the same time the NBA and NHL suspended their seasons and the NCAA canceled its basketball tournaments and other events.

Subsequently, the OHSAA canceled its winter championships, and spring sports were also canceled at both levels while the pros remain idle.

However, The Athletic reported this week Cleveland Indians officials have told players “Spring Training 2.0” could start in the first part of June with Opening Day set for July 1.

Additionally, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Bernie Bickerstaff reportedly told reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday the team will reopen its training facility to players Friday.

That’s OK with the governor.

“Professional sports are going to be obviously to a great extent dictated by the leagues, but it would not surprise me again to see some professional sports come back in Ohio, maybe with no spectators,” DeWine said. “That’s certainly a possibility.”

He added that harness racing and thoroughbred racing could also be back in action in Ohio this summer.

“In Ohio, that takes place at the fairs but also at the racinos,” he said. “So that is something that certainly could open up, but again that probably would open up initially, if it does, without spectators.

“The way the world works today when when they're running at places like Thistledown, they're simulcasting that a whole bunch of places, so they get the gaming is a big, big part of that, and it's not just the live crowd, as you know. There are people watching that on TV all over the place.”

He called sports played with empty stands to begin with a middle ground.

“I could see all kinds of sports occurring – without spectators,” he said. “I think that’s a middle ground. You know, those of us who like baseball, seeing it on TV or listening to a game on the radio would be a great thing. We’d like to see it in person, but we can’t do that. That’s obviously something in professional sports, the leagues have got to figure that out. That’s above my pay grade. They’ve got to come up with whatever their proposal is.”

With the state in the process of re-opening this month, he called the present a very important time for determining what will happen in the second half of the year.

“As we move back in and people start going to restaurants and things, people just have to be very, very careful as they do these things,” he said.

Also among activities he would also like to see return this year are youth sports.

“I think everybody should be looking at how do we do as much distancing as we can, but let the young people play,” he said. “It may change some things, but trying to figure that out is where I hope things go. That everybody tries to decide how to make this work. Maybe you limit people who are spectators so that the coach has got to worry about just his team or her team.

“These are all things that are a work in progress, but everybody should be thinking about how to do that. Young people have got to have something to do during the summer. We’re trying to protect people but at the same time we’ve got to allow some of this to go on.”

>>RELATED: Local baseball, softball leagues canceled

As for a college football season in the fall, DeWine again deferred to the leaders of two of the Division I FBS conferences with members in the state and the uncertainty created by the coronavirus.

“The Big Ten’s got to figure out what they’re gonna do,” he said. “The MAC has to figure out what they are going to do and every other league, and a lot is gonna depend, where are we in August? I don’t think anybody can predict where we are with this virus in August. I know people want certainty, but this virus does not provide certainty.”

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