Surging US virus cases raise fear that progress is slipping

In this photo taken on Friday, June 12, 2020, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, left, and Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov attend a press conference prior a a charity tournament Adria Tour, in Belgrade, Serbia. Both later tested positive for COVID-19.

If you’ve ever taken a roller coaster ride, you know the anticipation only grows as you get to the top.

However, as you also know when the cars reach the peak, it’s not the end of the ride. Rather, it’s just the beginning of when things get interesting.

Since the coronavirus pandemic shut down almost every sport in March, there have been the constant questions of “when” and “how” sports could return.

Some, like NASCAR and the PGA, have, while others have not.

Yet a few of those are on the verge of coming back, and that leads us to the next four weeks.

Much like being on that roller coaster, many leagues and colleges have spent the better part of the past two months making plans building up to this moment. As sports return to the field, court or ice, the next four weeks will cause many athletics directors, coaches, and commissioners to hold their breath, possibly scream, and at times, to hold on to the hope with white knuckles that their sports can return as smoothly as possible.

“As possible” being the key words.

During the next four weeks, MLB will return to spring training, the NBA and NHL will reboot their seasons with training camps, and college athletic programs, including football, will welcome students back for voluntary workouts. The programs hope they will be to phase into the NCAA-approved six-week ramp-up period.

After months of teams, organizations and schools formulating plans with state and federal health officials, along with experts in epidemiology, it’s time to see if those plans can be executed.

Some question the legitimacy of 60 games in a MLB regular season. However, before we start putting any asterisks in Cooperstown, let’s cross our fingers that all 30 teams can safely get through spring training.

Many want to know how many NBA teams have a legitimate chance to win the title at Disney, but first can the NBA safely get there as tests rapidly rise across Florida?

As for college football, we always hear coaches say in the preseason, “it’s all about getting ready for Week 1.”

That motto has taken on a new meaning in 2020. For schools to get to that game, they first need to get to the first week of training camp in July before anyone starts thinking about anything on Labor Day weekend.

Last weekend, the level of concern went up, along with the number of positive tests, as Clemson announced 37 new cases, Kansas State and Houston suspended workouts, and LSU reported 30 players in quarantine.

This all occurred during voluntary workouts on closed-down campuses.

What happens in a few weeks as hundreds more student-athletes return, and football programs go from weight room workouts to the practice field?

Quite possibly this is all part of the process? A hard lesson that needed to be learned?

Houston wasn’t even testing student-athletes upon their return unless they showed symptoms. I’m not an epidemiologist, but just listening to a Dr. Fauci press conference will let you know that was a colossal failure of an idea.

There’s also the shared responsibility, which is easier said than done when you’re dealing with young people in the prime of their life — as witnessed with a number of LSU’s football players who were quarantined after heading out to nightclubs near the school’s campus. The Orlando Pride had to withdraw from the NWSL’s Challenge Cup after positive tests and contact tracing of players and staff came back to a group of them out at a Florida bar.

Student athletes or young pro players might not think they are choosing a party over playing, but it could be a choice that costs them and their teams dearly, especially in college football, where health professionals and university presidents will be watching intently to see if programs can make it safely through these next few weeks.

During these next four weeks, nothing will be perfect. There will be positive tests in sports. But will it be stories of a “positive test” or a “growing number of positive tests” or an “outbreak”?

Can teams manage to keep the numbers down? Can players play it safe?

Many fans are looking ahead to the abundance of sports we could have in the next two to three months. However, these next four to five weeks are vital in whether that sports bounty materializes.

Wes McElroy hosts a daily sports talk show from 2-6 p.m. on 910 and 105.1

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