There was plenty of hope among sports fans that 2020 would provide us with some sort of meaningful competition, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. After only a few weeks of major league sports, however, this hope began to diminish.
For Major League Soccer and the NBA, the use of a “bubble” system seems to be working. In these instances, both organizations sequestered players, coaches, and staff in specific locations, hoping to prevent the outside world from essentially contaminating the leagues.
The MLB opted for a different route, with only partially-limited travel and interaction. As a result, 2020’s baseball season has been massively effected by COVID-19, with 20% of the league’s games postponed, canceled, or rescheduled by week two.
The league is now thoroughly revamping its safety protocols in hopes of salvaging what little is left of this already-abbreviated campaign.
Major League Baseball, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, sent severe, revised protocol measures to all clubs Wednesday, threatening to suspend a player or staff member for the remainder of the season for repeated or flagrant violations.
MLB, which is dealing with scheduling havoc caused by 33 members of Marlins and Cardinals testing positive for COVID-19, is hiring officials to monitor clubhouses and team hotels to assure there are no violations.
“We recognize that these changes place additional burdens and restrictions on players and staff,’’ according to a copy of a six-page memo obtained by USA TODAY Sports that was distributed to all teams. “But if we desire to play, they are necessary to limit infections and, if someone does test positive, to keep the virus from spreading. The behavior of every covered individual affects the players and staff on his or her team, and on other clubs as well.
The full list of enhancements are daunting, to say the least.
Players and staff wear face coverings at all times, including the dugout and clubhouse, with the exception of players on the field. This includes all coaches on the field, and every member of the umpiring crew. They must also wear face coverings at all times in the hotel and at public places on the road.
Clubs now are required to reduce the size of their traveling parties to only personnel who are absolutely essential to playing games. The compliance officers must certify that every member of the traveling party served an essential function on the road trip.
Staff and players are strictly prohibited from meeting in hotel rooms while on the road (including to share food), and may not gather in any public areas of the hotel without permission from the team’s compliance officer. Each team will make at least one private large room at the hotel with food and other amenities that is configured to allow for social distancing. Yet, while eating and drinking, individuals are discouraged from talking to one another, or even facing one another.
On road trips, clubs must provide a minimum of four buses, with a fully unoccupied row between players and staff members, while prohibiting side-by-side seating. On planes, players and staff members are prohibited from having more than two individuals in a row, and they can’t sit across from one another. They also are prohibiting anyone from leaving their seats except to use the lavatory. Players and staff members also must wear surgical masks or N95/KN95 respirators on the plane, prohibiting cloth face coverings.
Eating and drinking are still permitted on planes, but players and staff are prohibited from talking to one another at the same time.
Any player or staff member must notify their compliance officer if they intend to leave the hotel on the road. The officer will decide whether their planned trip outside the hotel complies with the manual and the club’s code of conduct.
All clubs now are required to provide outdoor, covered spaces for all visiting players and staff members to sit. Whenever possible, players and players are also encouraged to eat outdoors instead of the clubhouse.
While at home, players and staff members are strictly prohibited from visiting bars, lounges, malls, or places in which large groups gather.
Players and staff members who have been ordered to quarantine or isolate on the road may not leave their hotel rooms under any circumstance. Any club official who does not receive permission from the commissioner’s office to end their quarantine or isolation is subject to discipline.
The league also outlined harsh penalties for those found to be in violation of the new rules, including suspensions that could last throughout both the regular and postseason schedules.
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