The NFL may be planning for a “traditional” season this fall with stadiums full of fans, but chances are that won’t be the case for the Detroit Lions and other professional and college teams in the state.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a radio interview Tuesday that she does not expect to see capacity crowds at events this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is reason to feel some confidence here,” Whitmer said in an interview on the “Mojo in the Morning Show” on WQKI-FM (95.5). “But we also have to measure (people’s) expectations and say life’s going to be different. We’re not going to be filling stadiums in the fall.”
Whitmer was interrupted before finishing her thought.
Asked to expand on her comments, deputy press secretary Bobby Leddy indicated in an email Wednesday that stadiums full of fans might not return until a vaccine is in place.
“Medical experts have made it clear that COVID-19 spreads when people are in close contact with one another, and without a vaccine, our best strategy in combating the virus is to practice social distancing,” the statement read. “In regards to stadiums, our administration will continue to make informed decisions on re-engagement based upon data and medical expertise.”
Most major professional and college sports have been halted around the globe, though some European soccer leagues, Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL are exploring ways to start or finish their seasons.
The NFL has proceeded with normal offseason business in recent months — though not via traditional methods — hosting free agency and the draft; last week, the league released its 16-game schedule with no change to the expected start of the regular season (Sept. 13 for the Lions) or training camp (late July or early August).
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday in an interview with NBC that it’s too early to predict whether the season can safely begin on time, and the league built its schedule so it easily could be modified for a later start.
No matter when the NFL season begins, Whitmer cast doubt on having a stadium full of fans while explaining while the state is opening businesses in phases.
“Certainly as governor I want to give people the confidence that our plan will be met on days certain,” Whitmer said. “But the fact of the matter is, COVID-19 is a novel virus and that means it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We’re learning a tremendous amount. Every week that goes by, we’ve learned so much more about this disease and what it’s going to take to keep us safe and to avoid that second wave.”
Part of avoiding a deadly second wave on infections could be prohibiting large gatherings at which people are unable to socially distance themselves.
Ford Field lists a capacity crowd of 65,000 for Lions games, and stadiums at Michigan State (75,005) and Michigan (107,601) typically host even larger crowds.
Last week, after the Miami Dolphins unveiled plans to limit capacity to 15,000 people at games this fall, the NFL asked teams to refrain from discussing hypothetical situations related to the coronavirus.
Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel told “Good Morning America” that the organization also could set different times for fans to enter and exit gates and even rows as a way to promote social distancing.
The Lions said in a statement to the Free Press last week that they are preparing contingency plans, but declined to discuss the specifics.
Ford Field is scheduled to host the Monster Jam truck rally July 26, and the Lions said they will share new policies and protocols for stadium events this summer.
“The Detroit Lions are following the NFL’s lead in preparing to play a full 2020 season in front of fans,” the team said in its statement. “Given the evolving circumstances surrounding COVID-19, contingencies are needed and will be in place. We are evaluating all facets of the game day experience, and will do what is required to maintain a safe and healthy environment at Ford Field where our fans can feel comfortable.”
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