Tagged in: return

NFL shortens preseason to just two weeks as league continues to plot its 2020 strategy

The NFL has taken its next step in adjusting its calendar to prepare for a return to action amid the coronavirus pandemic

The NFL has shortened its 2020 preseason to two games, a source said, part of a larger acclimatization plan for players following an unprecedented virtual offseason program during the coronavirus pandemic.

In essence, the league canceled Weeks 1 and 4 of its original preseason calendar. It had previously canceled its Aug. 8 Hall of Fame game. Most players will still report to training camp on July 28, but the first preseason matches won’t be played until Aug. 20-24. The second week of preseason games are scheduled for Aug. 27-31. Each team will play one home game and one on the road.

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Teams that travel will depart on the day before games.

The primary driver for restructuring the preseason was a consensus between the NFL and NFL Players Association that players will need more time than normal to get in football shape this summer.

No teams were able to practice on the field during the offseason, and many gyms and other conditioning settings have been closed. The NFL’s standard preseason has been four games since it was shortened from six games in 1978. It is expected to be cut further when owners activate a provision in the collective bargaining agreement to extend the regular season to 17 games, which they can do as early as 2021.

When that happens, the preseason would shrink to no more than three games for each team. Of more immediate worry, however, is the health of players during training camp in 2020.

The NFL/NFLPA committee will soon issue a set of guidelines that spells out an acclimatization program for the 23 days of training camp prior to the first preseason game.

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Pacers’ Victor Oladipo to ramp up activity before committing to restart

All-Star guard Victor Oladipo plans to ramp up activity with the Indiana Pacers beginning next week and evaluate his repaired torn quad tendon before to making a final commitment to playing in the season’s restart in Orlando, he told ESPN on Saturday.

Oladipo, 28, is hopeful to return to play with the Pacers, but prefers to limit the risk of significant injury after returning in January from a full year of rehabilitating the torn right quad tendon.

“I feel a whole lot better,” Oladipo told ESPN. “I know there’s risk going into it with the unique situation that I’m in — being off so long and trying to ramp it up that fast. I’ve just got to be smart, that’s all.”

The Pacers have been cautious and working cooperatively with Oladipo throughout his rehab and return, and plan to keep closely monitoring and managing his recovery with the looming restart.

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Players must inform teams by Wednesday if they plan to participate in the season’s 22-team restart in Orlando — and teams must provide the league a roster of eligible players by July 1. However, Oladipo and the Pacers can push a decision on his return through the month of July as he ramps up in Indianapolis and Orlando for training camps.

Indiana would simply keep Oladipo on its active roster until a decision is made.

A team can sign a substitute player from an eligible pool of players to replace a roster player — and that replaced player will be ineligible to return.

Oladipo had his best match of the season — 27 points versus the Boston Celtics — in his last performance prior to the March 11 shutdown of the campaign.

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Love III’s return bittersweet 3 months after fire

The coronavirus pandemic has been a disruptive force across the world, made worse for Davis Love III by a March fire that devastated his home.

Love, 56, a two-time U.S. Ryder Cup team captain and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, is returning to play for the first time since the fire at this week’s RBC Heritage, a tournament he has won five times.

He is also seeing many friends and colleagues for the first time since the March 27 incident that totaled his home in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

“Certainly [wife] Robin and I packing up to come to a golf tournament was exciting, but it was also a little emotional,” Love said Wednesday at Harbour Town Golf Club, where the tournament starts Thursday. “

We didn’t have anything to pack like we usually do.

“I’m searching for head covers, and my son gave me a ball-mark fixer. I was like, I just don’t have enough equipment to go play a PGA Tour event. So it’s been ups and downs like that.”

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Love discovered a fire in his garage shortly after 5 a.m. that day after an alarm alerted him and his wife. None of the couple’s kids or grandchildren were at the home during the fire.

After trying to get a fire extinguisher, it became apparent that the fire was too strong, Love said. The Loves called 911 and waited.

“It seemed like it took forever,” Love said recently in a Golf Digest interview. “We were standing there watching our house burn down.”

The house was 12,000 square feet and three stories, but Love said it was gone in 30 minutes.

Most of Love’s golf memorabilia was gone, including the replica Ryder Cup trophy he received in 2016. A replica of the Wanamaker Trophy he was given for winning the 1997 PGA Championship is part of his display at the World Golf Hall of Fame. The Loves recently bought another home in the same area and will take time to decide their next move.

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Ortiz not Garcia, to headline Golden Boy return

Ryan Garcia and Oscar De La Hoya are at odds again, so Vergil Ortiz will headline Golden Boy Promotions’ first boxing card of the summer since the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Now that Top Rank has brought boxing back to television, it appears Golden Boy Promotions will follow suit, with plans to return in July.

It was once thought that the initial GBP event would be a Fourth of July card headlined by Ryan Garcia, but now it will be a card arranged for later in the month and with Vergil Ortiz in the main event. 

Oscar De La Hoya made the announcement Monday on Twitter, and the framing ruffled Garcia’s feathers. Garcia took exception to Ortiz being called the “future of boxing” and fired back in a now-deleted tweet. 

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You do realize you’re supposed to be my promoter (and) not (a) hater right?” Garcia responded. 

Golden Boy president Eric Gomez confirmed to ESPN that Ortiz will headline the first GBP card of the summer and explained why Garcia is no longer fighting on July 4.

“An offer was made to him and his team passed,” Gomez stated.

This comes not too long after Garcia said in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he felt the offer to return to the ring wasn’t to his liking.

Now, a relationship between Garcia and GBP that was once thought to be smoothed over after being frayed has again hit a snag.

The undefeated Ortiz was initially slated to face Samuel Vargas on March 28 in Los Angeles before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the card to be canceled. He will now be the first to return, versus an opponent to be decided. The location has yet to be confirmed, too, but it has been reported that the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif., is the likely landing spot for the fight. 

As for Garcia, it’s anyone’s guess when he will return to the ring. 

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NFL coaching staff can return to facilities beginning friday

NFL coaches will be permitted to return to team facilities beginning Friday.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport obtained a memo sent to teams from Commissioner Roger Goodell that allows coaching staffs to be among the employees eligible to return to club facilities starting Friday, June 5.

Players not seeking treatment for injuries are still barred from working at team facilities.

According to the memo, coaches may return only if the team has “received necessary permission from state and local governments to reopen its facility.” Clubs may also increase the number of employees in the facility to a total of 100, if allowed by local authorities.

Rapoport reported that the league anticipates only the San Francisco 49ers are not able to get to their facility Friday. The Niners are aware and supportive of the plan and have communicated with local authorities to obtain all necessary permissions when available, per Rapoport.

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“It is what it is,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters Thursday. “I’m not too upset about it. Yeah, you want every advantage possible, but our county is not there yet and it doesn’t bother me that much because I do understand. Plus, the players aren’t allowed in. Us coaches, we can meet like we’re doing right now on Zoom.”

The NFL closed all 32 team facilities earlier this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the U.S.

Team facilities were allowed to start reopening on May 19, but coaches and players were barred from returning as many states continued with lockdown orders. Protocols put in place will continue to be followed as additional members of the teams are allowed to re-enter the building.

Friday’s return to the office for coaching staffs will be the next step in gearing up for the 2020 campaign. The Eagles announced later Thursday that their facilities are set to reopen Monday to limited employees.

The memo to teams noted that coaches and other staff, “particularly those who may be in a higher risk category or who have concerns about their own health conditions,” are expected to meet with medical staff or a personal physician about any special precautions that must be taken while at the team facility. The league office will also work with team medical staff to implement COVID-19 testing for coaching staffs and other personnel prior to players becoming eligible to return to club facilities.

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NBA to approve plan for 22 team return

The NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday is expected to approve the league’s plan for a 22-team return in Orlando, ESPN reported.

The conference call is slated to take place at 12:30 p.m. ET. The NBA’s Board of Governors requires a three-fourths passage of the 30 teams on a plan.

The return of basketball would start July 31 under the proposal, with the last possible date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals being Oct. 12, ESPN reported.

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, each of the 22 teams will play eight regular-season games for seeding purposes for the playoffs.

The 16 teams now in postseason position will be joined by the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference and the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference.

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The Pelicans (28-36), Kings (28-36) and Trail Blazers (29-37) sit 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) in the Western Conference. The Spurs (27-36) are four in back of the Grizzlies, while the Suns (26-39) are six back.

The Wizards (24-40) reside six games behind the seventh-place Brooklyn Nets (30-34) and 5 1/2 behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic (30-35).

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, “If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer matches behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth.”

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Nets and Magic currently occupy playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers join the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Grizzlies in residing in playoff position in the Western Conference. The NBA saw play stopped on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.

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California board passes rules for boxing return

The California State Athletic Commission passed emergency regulations Friday with an eye to restarting combat events in the summer months.

The commission met via video conference Friday morning and its guidelines were sent to the California Office of Administrative Law.

“When that process is finished, we’ll start,” said Andy Foster, the CSAC’s executive director.

Among the key parts of these regulations, according to Foster, is that, “the fighters will be tested between two and three weeks before their event for the COVID-19 virus. If they’re clear, we’ll accept them on the bout card and we’ll approve the fights if they meet the other criteria.

Foster acknowledged that weighing heavily on the committee’s minds was Jacare Souza, who was scratched from the UFC 249 card in Jacksonville, Florida, on the weekend of May 9 for testing positive for the coronavirus.

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“We learned from that event, and I want to be clear, that’s not to put down the UFC one bit, they had a great plan and everything,” he said. “We learned by watching that, just how contagious this virus could be. So we want to mitigate that risk.”

Everyone working corners will be required to wear a mask and surgical gloves at ringside, but there will be no limit on how many people can be in the facility on fight night.

It’s not clear who will have the first show in California, but Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions, told ESPN, “Our plan, right now, we would like to go July 4th, and we’re working towards that. We’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure that all the right guidelines and protocols are going to be followed, and that the commission is going to be satisfied with all our efforts.”

Boxing has been at a standstill throughout the world since mid-March. Foster says he has received abundant calls during the past couple of months from those in the business wondering when they could start programing shows.

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Herring set for July title defense in Las Vegas

WBO junior lightweight titleholder Jamel Herring is set to return on July 2 in Las Vegas, headlining an ESPN card in a title defense versus an opponent to be named.

The 34-year-old ex-Olympian Herring (21-2, 10 KO) won the 130-pound belt in May 2019 by defeating Masayuki Ito, and made a successful first title defense in November, out-pointing mandatory contender Lamont Roach Jr.

Herring was set to face Carl Frampton this spring, but COVID-19 shelved that fight, where Herring was set to go over to Belfast to face the popular former two-division titleholder.

Frampton (27-2, 15 KO) definitely won’t be the July 2 opponent, as he can’t get to the United States with travel restrictions, but that fight is still in the cards at some point, so long as Herring doesn’t lose his belt. Frampton doesn’t seem interested in any tune-up bouts, perhaps due to the injury problems he’s had recently.

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Of fighters ranked in the WBO’s top 15, only Abraham Nova, Jonathan Oquendo, and Lamont Roach Jr would seem available as far as travel goes.

The 26-year-old Nova (18-0, 14 KO) is probably the most interesting option of that group, and made his Top Rank debut in January, but if Top Rank feels they might have something there, they probably wouldn’t want to put him in with Herring right now.

Oquendo (31-6, 19 KO) is a 36-year-old Puerto Rican veteran, a solid fighter who might be exactly the sort of opponent everyone will settle for here, while Roach (19-1-1, 7 KO) just had his shot and came up short.

Top Rank’s Oscar Valdez is the No. 1 contender, but it’s not going to be Valdez, who is targeting Miguel Berchelt and the WBC title.Top Rank’s first card back will come on June 9 on ESPN, with Shakur Stevenson likely to main event. It’s expected the company will be running two shows per week on ESPN outlets for a while.

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Owners approve MLB season proposal, plan for July start

Major League Baseball owners accepted a proposal that commissioner Rob Manfred plans to present to players Tuesday on a return-to-play scenario that aims to have baseball back in home stadiums by early July, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.

The meeting between MLB and the MLB Players Association on Tuesday will set the stage for what both parties expect to be a contentious negotiation.

Although MLB could benefit long-term from being the first American team sport to return amid the coronavirus pandemic, the logistics of beginning the season remain convoluted and require player support. Money is at the heart of the return, sources said.

Owners, fearful of deep financial losses with fan-free stadiums, agreed in a conference call Monday afternoon to a plan that includes a 50-50 revenue split with the players, sources told ESPN.

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Concerns about the league’s handling of testing and ensuring as safe a working environment as possible will be an issue broached by players on Tuesday and in the coming days, sources told ESPN.

Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle took to social media Monday to set that table.

As the sides are negotiating, the league will continue to seek consent from governmental entities and support from the medical community for a potential return.

The season could begin Fourth of July weekend, with games around the country in home stadiums. The intra-division-heavy schedule would be to limit travel, with teams possibly traveling by bus to nearby cities.

If any ballpark is not available because state or local officials have not approved the resumption of play, Manfred has told owners that he is prepared to move that team to another city to play home games, a team owner and a team president told ESPN.

Spring training likely would not include any matches, and teams could get ready for the season at their home stadiums. The 50 players available would be a mixture of major leaguers and top minor league players, with the minor league season in jeopardy.

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Ferguson, Gaethje make weight for UFC’s return

Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje both made weight Friday ahead of their fight for the interim lightweight title at UFC 249 on Saturday. 

According to ESPN’s Marc Raimondi, both Ferguson and Gaethje weighed in at 155 pounds in Jacksonville, Florida, which is where UFC 249 will take place.

The event is set to be held at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena with no fans in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic. UFC 249 will mark the first event from the organization since UFC Fight Night: Lee vs. Oliveira on March 14 in Brazil.

Ferguson and Gaethje had been expected to headline UFC 249 on April 18, but the event was postponed after UFC President Dana White said he was told to “stand down” by ESPN.

The fight is a replacement for the originally scheduled bout of Ferguson vs. UFC Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has been unable to travel outside of Dagestan, Russia, due to travel bans brought on by COVID-19.

With Khabib unable to fight currently, the winner of Ferguson vs. Gaethje will go on to face him at a later date to determine the UFC Lightweight champion.

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The 36-year-old Ferguson is the No. 1 contender for the title. He owns a career professional record of 25-3 with 12 victories by way of knockout and eight by submission. He is on a 12-fight winning streak, with his last two victories coming over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Anthony Pettis.

Gaethje, 31, is the fourth-ranked lightweight and owns a career record of 21-2 with 18 of those victories coming by knockout. Gaethje lost two fights in a row to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier in 2017 and 2018 but has since bounced back to win three consecutive, including a knockout victory over Cerrone in September 2019.

Other major fights planned for UFC 249 include Henry Cejudo vs. Dominick Cruz for the UFC Bantamweight title, a heavyweight title eliminator between Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik and a featherweight contest between Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar.

Cejudo, Cruz, Ngannou, Rozenstruik and Kattar all made weight, but Stephens came in overweight, which could put his fight versus Kattar in jeopardy.

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