Whitmer allows professional sports to return without fans
Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday that allows professional sports leagues to resume operations without live audiences in attendance.
The order comes as Major League Baseball plans a 60-game season beginning July 23-24 with players heading to training camps on July 1 in their home ballparks. The Detroit Tigers will hold their camp at Comerica Park.
The Pistons' and Red Wings' seasons already have ended because each team missed the playoffs in its respective league. The Lions are in the midst of their offseason, but some players have participated in voluntary workouts at their practice facility in Allen Park in preparation for the start of training camp, which is slated for next month.
In a statement, Whitmer said the state is ready to "gradually and safely allow professional sports to resume in Michigan."
"While this is an encouraging step in the reopening of our economy, it is critical for athletes to continue social distancing and taking precautions to stay safe," the governor said. "We want to keep our momentum going and keep moving forward, so it’s incumbent on everyone doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The Tigers began testing players for COVID-19 in preparation for their delayed and protracted spring training and already have had a player and staff member test positive for the novel coronavirus.
As their camp approaches, Tigers players will be tested and will continue daily testing after July 1. Players and staff can opt-out of starting training camp, but so far, none have expressed an interest.
This month, the Pistons had been allowing players who were rehabbing from injuries into their practice facility in midtown for treatment and light basketball activities. When when the NBA opted for a late-July restart to the season with only 22 teams, the Pistons were eliminated after a dismal 20-46 season.
Some Pistons players could continue with offseason workouts, but the Pistons won't have in-person workouts for prospective draft picks, ahead of the NBA draft, which is scheduled for Oct. 16. The start of the next season would be December, at the earliest.
The Red Wings have been on hiatus since the NHL season paused on March 12 because of COVID-19. The league is planning a resumption with training camps restarting on July 10, but that won't include the Red Wings, who had the NHL's worst record.
The league is planning a 24-team playoff format, which leaves the Red Wings on the outside looking in. The NHL draft lottery will be Friday, when the Red Wings find out whether they get the No. 1 pick and a momentum push into next season.
Under the governor's new three-page executive order, live audiences aren't allowed in pro sports venues, except for the staff of the facility at which a sporting event is held, and media personnel covering the team.
Also, the events must be conducted with a "COVID-19 safety plan that is consistent with any guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services."
Participants must maintain six feet of distance from one another "to the extent compatible with the sporting activity," the order says.
Baseball, of course, allows the best natural ability to distance.
Staff Writer Chris McCosky contributed.