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Charlotte, N.C. — The governor of North Carolina said Thursday that NASCAR teams can work in their race shops if they maintain social distancing guidelines, clearing a potential hurdle to resuming the season in coming weeks.

Gov. Roy Cooper extended the state’s stay-at-home order through May 8 on Thursday and said he would gradually open the state in three phases. He said he is still considering NASCAR’s request to run the Coca-Cola 600 as scheduled on May 24 without spectators.

The governors of both Florida and Texas have already said NASCAR is welcome to race in their states without fans, and South Carolina and Georgia are gradually easing restrictions.

For any racing to be done, the North Carolina-based teams need access to their shops to prep the cars.

“From the information that I have now, already under our state executive order, they could begin working in their garages as an essential business defined under our executive order,” Cooper said. “They are still in contact with local health departments that local governments may have some different health restrictions.”

As for Charlotte hosting the 600 on Memorial Day weekend for the 60th consecutive year, Cooper said public health officials are examining proposals for events without spectators submitted by NASCAR.

“We are the home of NASCAR, and I’m so grateful for this amazing sport that is in our state that not only provides people with a lot of entertainment, but also has an amazing economic engine for our state,” Cooper said. “I’ve been in contact with NASCAR officials, track owners, team owners. They have come forward with a plan to try and protect their employees. So we’ll be coming forward with an announcement on that pretty soon.”

NASCAR ran just four of its 36 races this season before competition was suspended March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The sanctioning body has vowed to run its full schedule once it resumes racing, and had been eyeing the Coca-Cola 600 as its return.

With surrounding states relaxing restrictions, a return could come before May 24. One proposed schedule showed NASCAR restarting at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina on May 17, followed by a 400-mile race at Charlotte on May 20 and the 600 on the 24th. That version of the schedule then had the Cup Series traveling to Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee for a May 27 race.

South Carolina Parks, Recreation & Tourism director Duane Parrish said Thursday that Darlington Raceway can host an event this spring. Parrish said the PGA Tour will play the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island from June 18-21.

Before that, he said, NASCAR would be at Darlington.

“So we have some lights at the end of the tunnel as far as events,” he said.

Teams are desperate to get back to work because no revenue is coming in during the shutdown, but a guaranteed share of the television package will be funneled to the teams once they start racing again.

Football in fall?

Count University of Arizona President Dr. Robert Robbins among those who don’t expect the college football season to start this fall.

Speaking to KVOI-AM in Tucson, Robbins said the university plans to bring back students and faculty during the fall semester, but cast a doubt on the ability to start the football season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m really concerned about whether we’re going to be playing football in the fall,” he said. “My sense right now, I just don’t see that happening.”

Connecticut President Tom Katsouleas made a similar comment while speaking to journalism students during a teleconference earlier this week.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament and put major sports across the world on hold. Numerous scenarios have been proposed, but no one is sure what’s going to happen with sports until there’s a better handle on the virus.

“What I’ve been hearing more of is that maybe doing something combining both basketball and football for the spring, so January-February 2021, and try to play both of them,” Robbins said. “There will be all kind of implications for television viewing and confusion. I don’t know. We just don’t have any answers right now.”

Budget crunch

Colorado athletic director Rick George said he and 11 head coaches will take pay cuts for the upcoming fiscal year in light of the budget impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The salaries for George along with football coach Karl Dorrell, men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle and women’s basketball coach JR Payne will be reduced by 10%. The other eight varsity head coaches will have their salaries reduced by 5%.

“It’s the right thing for all of us to do,” George said Thursday in a statement. “There are a lot of unknowns ahead of us, and while we don’t exactly know yet the financial impacts for the upcoming year, for them to agree and voluntarily take pay cuts is important at this time for our student-athletes and the overall direction of all our sports programs and support areas.”

Similarly, Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck is taking an unpaid week, along with about 200 other leaders in the university system in response to the budget crunch caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anything we can do to continue to help,” said Fleck, whose 2020 salary is $4.6 million.

Virtual Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs will recognize the first Saturday in May with a “Kentucky Derby at Home” online party, highlighted by a virtual Derby featuring 13 former Triple Crown winners in an effort to raise $2 million for COVID-19 relief.

The 146th Kentucky Derby was postponed from May 2 to Sept. 5 because of public health concerns about pandemic, the first time horse racing’s marquee event won’t run on its traditional day since 1945. The computer-generated Derby created by Inspired Entertainment will feature past Triple Crown champions using data algorithms, including historical handicapping information for each horse to determine the probability of potential finishing positions.

Fans can choose their horse on www.KentuckyDerby.com starting April 30 and donate to COVID-19 relief efforts. Churchill Downs will match donations up to $1 million for the Team Kentucky Fund and Direct Relief.

Participants who choose the winner will have the chance to win a Kentucky Derby VIP Experience. The virtual Derby will be shown May 2 on NBC during a special broadcast featuring the 2015 Kentucky Derby, when American Pharoah began his Triple Crown run.

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