Categories
National Sports

First domino to fall? Big 10 scraps nonconference football games this fall

By JOHN ZENOR
AP Sports Writer
The Big Ten Conference announced Thursday it will not play nonconference games in football and several other sports this fall, the most dramatic move yet by a power conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The conference cited medical advice in making its decision and added ominously that the plan would be applied only “if the conference is able to participate in fall sports.”
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said it was “much easier if we’re just working with our Big Ten institutions” in terms of things like scheduling and traveling.
“We may not have sports in the fall,” Warren told the Big Ten Network. “We may not have a college football season in the Big Ten.
“So we just wanted to make sure that this was the next logical step to always rely on our medical experts to keep our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions and make sure that they are as healthy as they possibly can be from a mental, a physical, an emotional health and wellness standpoint.”
There has been deep unease that the pandemic will deal a blow to fall sports after wiping out hundreds of games, including March Madness, this past spring. More than a dozen schools have reported positive tests for the virus among athletes in the past month but the bad news picked up this week as the Ivy League canceled all fall sports and Stanford announced it was cutting 11 varsity sports.
The Big Ten decision is the biggest yet because Bowl Subdivision football games — more than 40 of them, all moneymakers in different ways — were simply erased. And the move didn’t wash away fears the entire fall season could be in jeopardy.
“I am really concerned, that is the question of the day,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on a conference call after the announcement. “I was cautiously optimistic. I’m not even there now.”
Besides football, the sports affected include men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.
“By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic,” the Big Ten said.
The other big conferences, the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12, have all indicated they intend to play fall sports.
“The Big Ten decisions are interesting and provide additional information to inform our discussions,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “At this time our medical and scientific advisors have suggested we should move ahead slowly and with constant re-evaluation. We plan to continue to prepare for all available scenarios until we are informed that some are no longer viable.”
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey said league officials “will continue to meet with regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by the medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to the SEC fall sports.”
The marquee nonconference matchups in the Big Ten this season included Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 3 at Lambeau Field, home of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Other big matchups included Michigan at Washington, Ohio State-Oregon, Penn State-Virginia Tech and Miami-Michigan State.
Much of the pain will be felt at smaller schools that lean heavily on the big-money games to help fund their athletic budgets. Hours before the Big Ten announcement, Northern Iowa, which will lose a Sept. 5 game at Iowa, said it expected an athletics budget shortfall to exceed $1 million.
A handful of teams were scheduled to play two Big Ten opponents, including Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Bowling Green athletic director Bob Moosbrugger said the Big Ten’s decision “is the tip of the iceberg.”
“Ten FBS conferences have signed a college football playoff agreement with an expectation that we will work together for the good of college football,” Moosbrugger said. “If we are to solve these challenges and be truly dedicated to protecting the health and safety of our student-athletes, we need to do a better job of working together.”
Illinois State was scheduled to play at Illinois on Sept. 4.
“Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision, as there are many people affiliated with both universities that have had this game circled on their calendars for a long time,” Illinois State athletic director Larry Lyons said. He said the budget is in a “constant state of flux,” but there are no plans to cut sports.
Memphis, which had been scheduled to visit Purdue on Sept. 12, announced Thursday it was cutting administrative and sports operation budgets 14% in addition to some other personnel savings.
The Big Ten said it would release detailed schedules later and continue to evaluate other sports. The league said its schools will honor scholarships for athletes who choose not to compete in the upcoming academic year because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson said he and his Big Ten colleagues “know that there remain many questions that still need to be answered, and we will work toward finding those answers in the coming weeks.”
In the SEC, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk was asked about the possible rationale for a conference-only schedule.
“Probably, it’s a comfort level of how protocols are being enacted, how testing is done and then keeping it within that family, if you will — your expanded social circle or social pod,” said Sterk, whose Tigers play in the SEC. “You might be able to control things more that way, or feel like you can, anyway versus the unknown of people coming from outside our 11 states.”

Categories
National Sports

Pirates’ Keller looks to mesh information, instincts in 2020

By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mitch Keller’s first go-round in the majors was a study in contrasts and a snapshot of where baseball is at in 2020.
The traditional numbers for the Pittsburgh Pirates top-ranked pitching prospect weren’t great. One win in 11 starts. An ERA north of 7.00. An inability to work deep into games. For a franchise that needs young players to do a fair share of the heavy lifting in order to contend, the early returns were jarring.
The advanced metrics, however, were far kinder to the big-armed 23-year-old. His spin rate, pitch efficiency and his strikeouts per nine innings (12.2) offered proof his stuff was good. That didn’t make it any easier for the soft-spoken kid from Iowa to endure. There would be times he would get to the dugout wondering how things got sideways so quickly.
“When you make pitches and a ground ball gets through the hole there or a double down the line or something like that, I mean, you kind of feel it out there,” Keller said. “Like, ‘Dang, that was a really good pitch.’ You kind of feel like you’re getting unlucky sometimes, but you’ve just got to keep pushing through. I say this, but hopefully it doesn’t last because that sucks.”
And that’s as close as the reserved Keller will get to expressing the inner frustration he felt last summer, a frustration Pirates shortstop and longtime friend Cole Tucker could sense.
“I know that he felt like he showed better than what showed up on the scoreboard or on the little ticker on ESPN,” Tucker said. “I think there’s still a ton of reason to have optimism about Keller because his stuff’s crazy.”
And hopefully a little bit more refined.
Keller spent the downtime created by the COVID-19 pandemic getting nerdy with his game, taking frequent deep dives into analytics provided by the Rapsodo machine that measures the effectiveness of every pitch. He also tinkered with a changeup that remains very much a work in progress and a necessity so opponents don’t sit on a fastball that is consistently in the mid-upper 90s.
Trying to take the data as well as the advice provided by new pitching coach Oscar Marin while also relying on the talent that fueled the second-round pick in the 2014 first-year player draft’s rise through the minors is a delicate dance.
“You can’t just go one way or the other,” Keller said. “You’ve got to rely on what feels good and right, too. You can’t go all-in on the numbers. But the numbers really do make me a better player.”
And Keller believes he is in a better position this time around despite the stop-start nature of the 2020 season. So does his new boss. First-year manager Derek Shelton asked around about Keller before coming on last December. The reports were overwhelmingly positive. The goal over the next three months is helping him take a step forward. Adding an offspeed pitch is a vital part of the journey.
“The changeup is a development pitch for any young starter,” Shelton said. “Usually, guys have either the breaking ball or the changeup when they come in and they develop the other one. He’s still working on it. His feel to pitch is pretty good and a changeup is a feel pitch. He’s going to have to continue to develop the grip and then (learn) how to maximize that pitch.”
Keller began 2020 hoping to make the opening day roster for the first time. That’s a given now with starter Chris Archer out for the shortened 60-game season and rosters expanded to 30 players for the opening weeks of a year unlike any other. He’s still working on his stamina, throwing just two innings during a simulated game on Sunday while most of the rest of starting rotation is stretched out to four or five.
He didn’t unlock a secret during the unexpected downtime so much as expand the foundation that’s carried him this far. He’s eager to see where it goes. So are the Pirates.
“(I’ve) figured out where I need to be to maybe have those unlucky times go the other way,” he said.
___
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Categories
National Sports

Mahomes’ big bet on football pays off with $503 million deal

By MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer
Patrick Mahomes risked everything when he opted for football over baseball.
Turns out, he got baseball money anyway.
One day after the former two-sport star got a 10-year deal worth up to $503 million, the richest contract in American sports history, the reigning Super Bowl MVP repeatedly insisted this deal was about more than money. He wants to be the cornerstone of a dynasty in Kansas City.
“That’s how I’ve always been built — to follow my passions and do things to the best of my ability,” the Chiefs quarterback said Tuesday on a Zoom call. “It’s never been about money for me. I’m glad we have this done and I can go out and be the same player that I was and the same person that I was.”
The Chiefs are banking on it.
They rewarded the 24-year-old Mahomes with $477 million in guarantee mechanisms, a no-trade clause and opt-out clauses if he doesn’t hit those guarantees — clauses more commonly associated with baseball contracts than football deals.
But almost from the moment Kansas City traded up to select the Texas Tech star with the No. 10 overall pick in the 2017 draft, the front office had been mapping out a strategy to keep Mahomes.
“Going back to the first free agency I was part of in 2018, we had the idea of structuring deals with Pat in mind,” general manager Brett Veach said.
“The one thing, as Pat’s success kept going on, the numbers kept bigger and bigger. So it took off and that was a good challenge to have. But I remember when this first came out, (director of football administration) Brandt (Tilis) came to me said ‘Pat’s going to be a baseball contract, he’s that good.'”
He certainly has been the past two seasons.
His strong arm, fleet feet and uncanny ability to accurately throw from different angles already have made the 24-year-old into one of the league’s big stars. His humble, charming personality has resonated with fans and teammates alike, and the resume is starting to fill up, too.
After throwing only 35 passes as a rookie, Mahomes broke virtually every single-season franchise passing record in 2018 when he was the league’s MVP, the Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year and led the Chiefs to their first AFC championship game in a quarter century.
Then, despite missing two games with a dislocated right kneecap last season, Mahomes closed the regular season with six straight wins and capped the season by rallying Kansas City with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to give the Chiefs their first Super Bowl title in 50 years.
That’s all coach Andy Reid needed to see a long-time investment would be worth every cent.
“I’m so happy for Pat, for the Kansas City Chiefs organization and really for the city of Kansas City for having this opportunity to have a true franchise quarterback here, one that was drafted here which hasn’t happened for almost the duration of the Chiefs organization,” Reid said.
“I think Brett did a phenomenal job of organizing this. I joked that he and (former general manager John) Dorsey wore me out about bringing Pat here, saying he was the best player they’d ever seen.”
And it almost never happened.
Mahomes was a top baseball prospect out of high school and might have followed his father, Pat, and his godfather, LaTroy Hawkins to the big leagues if he had been selected earlier in the 2014 draft.
Some thought he was worthy of a $1 million deal. But the fear of Mahomes spurning the baseball world for football sent his draft stock sliding, until the Detroit Tigers took him in the 14th round.
That was the only sign Mahomes needed.
But he still found a way to cash in with a deal that surpasses Mike Trout’s previous record with the Los Angeles Angels of $426.5 million.
Mahomes wanted even more from the Chiefs.
By agreeing to a deal that would keep him in Kansas City for 12 more years, Mahomes wanted to make sure the 62-year-old Reid would still be coaching and that the Chiefs had enough flexibility under the salary cap to reward his teammates.
Once he checked those two boxes, Mahomes was ready to sign for the half-billion dollar paycheck.
“I knew from the moment I stepped on Arrowhead Stadium field that this was where I wanted to spend my entire career,” Mahomes said.
“I’ve always believed in the legacy thing and I think you see that with the whole entire team. They want to be a part of this culture and they want to build a dynasty. That takes a lot of work and I think we have those guys in this locker room.”
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
National Sports

More positive tests, canceled workouts add to MLB unease

By CHARLES ODUM AP Sports Writer
As baseball nears the two-week countdown to the start of its delayed season, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep more players, including Boston Red Sox projected opening day starter Eduardo Rodriguez, off the field.
On Tuesday, one day after Major League Baseball released its 60-game schedule, there was continued evidence of the difficulties caused by the pandemic.
The San Francisco Giants suspended workouts at Oracle Park as they awaited the results of weekend tests for the coronavirus. The Chicago Cubs’ workout was delayed.
Oakland left-hander Jake Diekman, who has ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune condition, said teams having to call off workouts because of delays in test results “just can’t happen.”
“I know they’re trying their hardest, but I don’t know if that’s good enough for right now,” Diekman said Tuesday. “It’s a little worrisome. Say we go on a 10-day road trip and we only get results one time. That’s not very good with 45 or 50 people in a clubhouse at one time.”
Giants manager Gabe Kapler said one missed day wouldn’t put his club behind. He said he expects the testing process to improve.
“I feel as confident today as I did yesterday,” Kapler said. “I understand that there are going to be hiccups along the way. … I think more than anything I just maintain a level of empathy for everybody that’s working really hard to get our camp up and running but also across the league and for all the clubs that are working really hard to put their players in a position to have success. Nobody expected this to be easy and everybody is doing the best that they can.”
The Giants already have had prospect Hunter Bishop and pitcher Luis Madero test positive.
Rodriguez, who broke out in 2019 as a star, and Red Sox prospect Bobby Dalbec tested positive for the virus.
Rodriguez had not reported to camp after informing the team that he had been around relatives who had been ill. Dalbec, a third baseman, also is home and is asymptomatic.
Manager Ron Roenicke said it is “just unfortunate” the positive test could jeopardize Rodriguez’s chances to start on opening day. Rodriguez had career-best numbers with 19 wins and a 3.81 ERA in 2019.
Also, the Kansas City Royals announced right-hander Brad Keller and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn had positive tests and gave the team permission to announce the results.
Keller, 24, said he has “minor symptoms that remind me more of an allergy attack.”
The threat of an infection was enough for the Cleveland Indians to keep outfielder Franmil Reyes away from camp. Reyes was told to stay home after he was seen on social media attending a weekend holiday party without wearing a mask.
It was an example that off-field activities can affect a player’s status.
Manager Terry Francona said Reyes would be re-tested “when it’s appropriate.”
Francona said Reyes could have exposed himself and his teammates to the virus by not practicing social distancing or wearing a mask. Francona said he has used the incident as a teaching point for other players. He said Reyes has apologized.
“This is not to poke at Franmil,” Francona said, adding Reyes is “a wonderful kid and I don’t ever want that to be disputed. But we have gone around to the other players and talked to them about it.”
The Cubs’ workout was delayed a few hours as the team awaited test results. On Monday, Cubs slugger Kris Bryant criticized the lack of frequency of the tests and delays in getting results.
Manager David Ross said Tuesday’s delay “isn’t a huge deal” and seemed bigger “with what’s been going on with some teams the last day or so.”
“We can’t just crush MLB because this is new to them, too, and the testing facility,” Ross said.
The two teams from last year’s World Series, the champion Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros, resumed workouts after canceling practices on Monday because of testing delays.
“They’re still trying to iron out the bugs,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “No one’s happy about it — the players, the MLB, probably the testing site. But the tests came back today, and we were able to work.”
Some Washington players did not take part in workouts, including Starlin Castro, Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick and Victor Robles. General manager Mike Rizzo said two unidentified players tested positive for the coronavirus. Any players and staff who came into contact with the two players had to be re-tested.
“Several of those players that you mentioned beyond the two positive tests have tested negative in their intake test, but if you come into any type of contact with a player that is positive — and we cast a real wide net of being in contact — (then) you have to be re-tested,” Rizzo said. “Those players were re-tested a couple days ago, and we’re waiting on the results on a group of those players.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker, eager for a quiet day, embraced “our first normal feel day since we’ve been back.”
Four Atlanta players, including first baseman Freddie Freeman and one of the team’s top relievers, Will Smith, have tested positive. Two veterans, outfielder Nick Markakis and right-hander Félix Hernández, have decided to sit out the season.
On Tuesday, Snitker had his first chance to address his full squad at Truist Park as he made plans for a situational scrimmage on Wednesday and the team’s first intrasquad game on Monday. Before Tuesday, only small groups had been on the field as the team practiced social distancing.
“I told the guys I’ve never felt so detached from the team in all my life because we’ve been here, there and everywhere,” Snitker said. “I feel like today is the start of something that we’re all kind of getting back in the swing of these things.”
Among Braves pitchers scheduled to throw on Wednesday are Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Josh Tomlin and Shane Greene.
The Baltimore Orioles will play their first intrasquad game on Wednesday night at Camden Yards. Left-hander Tommy Milone and right-hander Tom Eshelman will start in the game, which is scheduled for 7 1/2 innings.
“Everyone’s getting tired of going through the daily workout and ready to play some meaningless games, at least where pitchers face hitters in a game environment,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
The intrasquad games and workouts give top prospects opportunities to show they belong.
In a matchup of the Marlins’ last two first-round picks, right-hander Max Meyer faced right fielder JJ Bleday in batting practice. Both hope to make the majors this season.
“Everyone has to be ready to go,” Meyer said. “COVID could go through the locker room. You never know what’s going to happen, especially the time we’re in right now. So all of us are getting ready.”
___
AP Sports Writers Kristie Rieken, Tim Booth, Janie McCauley, Kyle Hightower, Tom Withers, Stephen Whyno, Dave Ginsburg and Steven Wine contributed to this report.
___
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Categories
National Sports

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson apologizes for anti-Semitic post

By ROB MAADDI AP Pro Football Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has apologized after backlash for sharing anti-Semitic posts on social media over the weekend.
Jackson initially posted a screenshot of a quote widely attributed to Adolf Hitler, saying in part: “Jews will blackmail America.” In another post, Jackson showed support for Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader who is known for anti-Semitic rhetoric.
“My post was definitely not intended for anybody of any race to feel any type of way, especially the Jewish community,” Jackson said in a video he posted on Instagram on Tuesday. “I post things on my story all the time, and just probably never should have posted anything Hitler did, because Hitler was a bad person, and I know that.”
The team issued the following statement: “We have spoken with DeSean Jackson about his social media posts. Regardless of his intentions, the messages he shared were offensive, harmful, and absolutely appalling. They have no place in our society, and are not condoned or supported in any way by the organization. We are disappointed and we reiterated to DeSean the importance of not only apologizing but also using his platform to take action to promote unity, equality, and respect. We are continuing to evaluate the circumstances and are committed to continuing to have productive and meaningful conversations with DeSean, as well as all of our players and staff, in order to educate, learn, and grow.”
The NFL also issued a statement, saying: “DeSean’s comments were highly inappropriate, offensive and divisive and stand in stark contrast to the NFL’s values of respect, equality and inclusion. We have been in contact with the team which is addressing the matter with DeSean.”
Jackson, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, is in his second stint in Philadelphia, returning last season to the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2008 draft.
Former Eagles president Joe Banner criticized Jackson on Twitter. Banner wrote: “If a white player said anything about (African-Americans) as outrageous as what Desean Jackson said about Jews tonight there would at least be a serious conversation about cutting him and a need for a team meeting to discuss. Which would be totally appropriate. Absolutely indefensible.”
Banner, who also worked for Cleveland and Atlanta, later shared an anti-Palestinian tweet with the hashtag “Palestinianprivilege getting away with murder.”
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
National Sports

Yanks’ Cole learns safety-protocol lesson in 1st intrasquad

By JAKE SEINER AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Gerrit Cole couldn’t have expected the New York Yankees to take the ball away from him just one batter into his first home start in the Bronx.
But the team’s new $324 million ace learned the hard way about one of baseball’s new coronavirus safety protocols Tuesday night during an intrasquad game at Yankee Stadium.
Cole allowed a home run to the second hitter he faced, Miguel Andújar, one pitch after being forced to give up the ball he used to strike out leadoff man Mike Tauchman.
“I liked that ball,” Cole grumbled on the mound.
Among the safety steps instituted by Major League Baseball for this virus-shortened season is that pitchers can’t reuse a baseball once it has been touched by other players. After Cole struck out Tauchman swinging, catcher Gary Sánchez whipped the ball around the infield — a customary ritual that’s frowned upon in MLB’s 2020 operations manual.
Cole shot the dugout a confused look when coaches called for the ball. Andújar crushed the next pitch into the empty right field seats.
“We weren’t exactly sure if we were supposed to keep it or not,” Cole said. “We kind of made a joke about it. Looked like I probably should have kept it.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said the club is still trying to nail down some of the protocols in MLB’s 101-page manual — one reason the team is scheduling so many of these intrasquads early in preseason camp. He said he wasn’t sure if Sánchez was supposed to throw the ball around the infield or if umpires would make them throw out the baseball during the regular season if he did.
“I have to get to the bottom of that,” Boone said.
Otherwise, Cole’s first time toeing the Yankee Stadium rubber in pinstripes went smoothly.
Cole faced a Yankees B team in an intrasquad game that aired locally. He pitched five innings of one-run ball, striking out six and allowing one hit and two walks.
The 29-year-old tried to mimic as much of his pregame routine as possible, figuring out how to adjust to account for social distancing and the missing adrenaline that usually comes from a stadium full of fans.
“This is the first kind of real, most game-like scenario I’ve been put in with it,” he said. “It was certainly different, but everything’s different. I didn’t have trouble focusing tonight, so I’m just going to try to get in my space and do what I do.”
Cole is expected to start on opening night for New York against the World Series champion Nationals in Washington on July 23.
SUBWAY SERIES STUFF
The Yankees are set to visit the crosstown Mets on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 next season, according to a person familiar with the decision. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Major League Baseball has not yet released next season’s schedule.
The Yankees and Mets won’t have to wait that long to see each other. The teams announced Tuesday they will play preseason exhibition games July 18 at Citi Field and July 19 at Yankee Stadium as they prepare for the start of a pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season. The Philadelphia Phillies and new manager Joe Girardi — formerly the Yankees’ skipper — will travel to the Bronx for an exhibition game July 20.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Aside from INF DJ LeMahieu and RHP Luis Cessa — both isolating at home following positive coronavirus tests — RHP Jonathan Loaisiga is the only Yankees player yet to clear intake screening. The hard thrower from Nicaragua was delayed getting to New York and is awaiting results from a test taken Monday. … C Kyle Higashioka was scratched from the intrasquad game with a sore neck. … OF Clint Frazier has been limited to DH duties after dealing with “a little foot issue” over the past two months, Boone said. Frazier is running and doing outfield drills. “We’re just slow-playing him,” Boone said.
___
Follow Jake Seiner: https://twitter.com/Jake_Seiner
___
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Categories
National Sports

NASCAR and IndyCar collide for racing extravaganza at Indy

By JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The once-frosty schism between the two biggest racing series in the United States has finally thawed and the result is a blockbuster event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — even without fans.
NASCAR’s elite Cup Series will share a venue with IndyCar on the same weekend for the first time, a doubleheader conveniently forced by the frantic rescheduling required by by the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, it is an important step in putting forth a united front for the sake of motorsports.
“We’re all racers. We want racing to be successful,” said Kevin Harvick, the current NASCAR points leader and a winner at the Brickyard last year. “I know it’s kind of had that stigma for a number of years there’s the IndyCar guys and there’s the NASCAR guys … racers are racers. Everybody wants to see a good race and be part of a cool event.”
The fracture between the two leagues dates to at least 1954 when NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was allegedly told by IMS security he’d been ordered to leave the speedway. France was already working on his own big race track, Daytona International Speedway, and he vowed it would give Indianapolis a run for its money.
The battle was on and neither side had any desire to build a working relationship. IndyCar, called CART in its heyday, dwarfed the Southern-based stock car series. But the open wheel racing split the mid 1990s in which Tony George created his own series gave NASCAR an opening to capitalize as CART and the Indy Racing League fractured its base. NASCAR exploded in popularity and blew past its bitter rival as the place to race.
As years passed and NASCAR became an annual staple at Indinapolis, the relationship between the two series has improved. Jay Frye, who spent decades working in NASCAR, is now president of IndyCar. Steve Phelps, just the fifth president in NASCAR history, has never held a longstanding vendetta against the series.
Most important, though, is that motorsports titan Roger Penske now owns IndyCar and the speedway and has the juice to broker such a weekend. When the coronavirus pandemic blew holes in both series’ schedules, Penske plopped the IndyCar road course race originally scheduled for May on the shared weekend with NASCAR.
IndyCar will open the spectacle on Saturday with its second event of the season, then NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series will make its debut later that day on the same road course. The Cup Series races Sunday on the 2.5-mile oval. COVID-19 restrictions mean IndyCar and NASCAR teams and drivers will not mingle, use different entry points at the speedway and work from different garages.
The inability to open the gates to spectators is the one downside to what is an otherwise monumental moment for both series.
“To me, that’s the unfortunate part, we don’t get to have fans in here,” Penske said. “But I went to Jim France and Steve Phelps and said, ‘Look, the Brickyard has not been able to be what you have hoped, and now that we run the series and the speedway, we can make the decisions and we can get this done and it will be good for everyone.'”
This new pairing could ultimately smooth the road ahead for an entire industry battling for attendance, television ratings and sponsorship. NBC Sports is IndyCar’s broadcast partner and begins its portion of the NASCAR season this weekend. Sam Flood, executive producer and president of production, has tried to move away from head-to-head scheduling that forced viewers to choose which race to watch.
“We think it’s a really important crossover to have people watch racing … to get people to sample different series, and you shouldn’t just be a NASCAR fan, you should be a racing fan,” Flood said. “I think this is a great celebration of motorsports. The interest in motorsports is high. We just need people to watch each other’s forms of racing and grow the overall pool of racing fans.
“And that’s why this is so valuable, and that’s why we’re so lucky Roger stepped in here.”
There are no drivers scheduled to compete in both series, but NBC Sports analyst Townsend Bell will call the IndyCar race and then fly to Daytona to race in the IMSA sports car event. Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson plans to drive five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon’s car in a test on the road course next week.
Both IndyCar and the Cup Series will work from the garages once used by Formula One, and the NASCAR group can’t even enter the facility until IndyCar has cleared out. It means drivers can’t socialize the way initially imagined on a weekend such as this, and they’ll have to watch the other series’ on television.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to watch the race. I wish I could have. It’s the situation we’re in,” said Simon Pagenaud, winner of both the road course race and the Indianapolis 500 last year. He indicated IndyCar will be exiting the speedway grounds before the Xfinity Series goes green.
“At the end of the day, it’s a historical moment, I think not just for American racing but for worldwide racing. I look forward to the weekend and seeing the reaction afterward.”

Categories
National Sports

Ski worlds to be held in 2021 despite request to delay

By GRAHAM DUNBAR AP Sports Writer
GENEVA (AP) — A request by the organizers of next year’s skiing world championships in Italy to postpone the event by one year was rejected Thursday by the International Ski Federation.
FIS ruled that the event will go ahead from Feb. 9-21, 2021, in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the highlight of an Alpine season that faces challenges to find safe protocols for international travel and attending races in Europe, North America and China.
The Veneto region of northern Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the season-ending World Cup races in Cortina in mid-March were canceled. That week-long event was to be a test for the 2021 worlds.
“The last month of efforts to come to this solution demonstrates the strong collaborative spirit of the ski family and stakeholders.” FIS president Gian Franco Kasper said.
Organizers in Italy have said they expect losses of about 30 million euros ($34 million) if the worlds are also canceled. They asked for a postponement to March 2022, which would be only weeks after the Beijing Olympics.
“But we will be ready in any case and we will show that these world championships can change the history of a region despite the current difficulties,” Alessandro Benetton, president of the Cortina organizing committee, said in a statement.
Italian racer Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was “happy for Cortina because it will host the first major international event after the coronavirus epidemic.”
Cortina, which hosted the 1956 Olympics, will co-host the 2026 Winter Games with Milan and use the worlds as a showcase for the resort.
The women’s World Cup downhill on the Olympia delle Tofane course each January is one of the most scenic in the sport with a signature jump between tall outcrops of jagged rock.
The Dolomites venue was awarded the 2021 worlds by FIS after missing out as a candidate four straight times from 2013-19.
___
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Categories
National Sports

French Open to allow fans in stands at the tournament

PARIS (AP) — The French Open will allow fans to attend this year’s postponed tournament.
The French Tennis Federation said Thursday up to 60% of the stands can be filled with fans when play starts in September at Roland Garros.
Tickets will go on sale on July 16 for the Sept. 27-Oct. Oct. 11 tournament.
The clay-court tournament had been scheduled to start on May 24 but was postponed to Sept. 20 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It then got pushed back another week.
The FFT has prepared a health and safety protocol to ensure the safety of fans. No more than four people can sit together in one group and there must also be one chair left empty between each mini-group of people in the same row.
“The number of spectators allowed in the stadium will be 50%-60% of the usual capacity,” the FFT said. “This reduction will allow strict distancing measures to be respected.”
Wearing masks is recommended but will not be obligatory when fans line up outside or sit in the stands, but must be worn when fans are moving around inside the grounds.
Hand sanitizers will also be available.
___
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Categories
National Sports

After renovation, Hoops Hall ready to show off its new look

By JIMMY GOLEN AP Sports Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Workers wearing black masks and white gloves move through the corridors of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, pushing a cart loaded with high-top sneakers from some of the sport’s biggest stars.
The gloves are to protect the collection; the masks are to protect each other.
The staff is putting the building back together after a $22 million, top-to-bottom renovation that ended during a pandemic that is forcing the hall to rethink what a museum can be. Visitors will notice the changes — not just the new items and the way they are displayed, but also the ways the hall is being retrofitted for the coronavirus era.
“We will be opening up with a 100% new, complete experience,” hall President and CEO John Doleva said. “We’ll see what level of travel people have (in mind), in terms of jumping in the car and where they’re going to want to go first. We really want to be one of the first things on their list.”
Originally scheduled to come back online May 1, the hall pushed the date back to July because of the coronavirus outbreak. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday cleared the state to move on to Phase 3 of the reopening plan, which includes museums, and the new hall will welcome its first visitors on July 8.
The hall has used the extra time to get ready.
Staff returned to the building last week for the first time in months for training on the new exhibits and procedures.
Among the changes designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 are timed tickets that will limit crowds in the 80,000 square feet of exhibits. A theater that used to have a capacity of 196 people will be limited to 29, with seats marked to facilitate social distancing.
Hands-on displays are now hands-off: Visitors will be given stylus pens so they don’t actually have to touch the touch screens; some displays are covered in plexiglass. Cleaning crews will disinfect other high-touch areas, including the basketballs that fans can use to shoot at peach baskets like the ones James Naismith nailed up in 1891 at a Springfield YMCA.
Spread throughout the floors are signs with basketball stars spreading their arms wide, encouraging visitors to stay six feet apart. (Anthony Davis’ wingspan is 7 feet, 6 inches — a little extra safe.)
“When this museum was designed, it was very digitally heavy and very touch screen based, which is incredibly exciting for the visitor,” said Jason Fiddler, a hall vice president who gave a reporter a tour last week. “But in terms of safety precautions with COVID-19, obviously that poses some significant challenges.”
It’s not just the infection control measures that are new.
In place of the plaques covering the building’s dome — the centerpiece of the old museum tour — inductees now have their names etched on glass panels in a Hall of Honor. Forty monitors show video and photos, while four touchscreens allow fans to pick Hall of Famers and go deep on their career.
“Our new Hall of Honor is really a reverent space, where you have the ability to take in the Hall of Famers for who they were and really pay homage to their careers,” Fiddler said. “If you’re a fan of a certain player, a certain generation, a certain Hall of Famer, you’ll have the ability to walk through that on your own timeline. However deep you want to go with that, you’ll have the ability to.”
On the center court, where visitors can shoot baskets on hoops from different eras, the hall has added a second replica of Naismith’s peach basket. A 14-by-24-foot LED screen plays buzzer beaters and other memorable moments on a 15-minute loop.
Elsewhere, items like an original pair of Air Jordans share space with Dennis Rodman’s boa and Lou Carnesecca’s sweater. An exhibit on moves features the crossover dribble, the skyhook and now the Eurostep. Among the artifacts in the “Cinderella Story” exhibit is the jersey that senior guard Jairus Lyles wore in 2018 when Maryland-Baltimore County beat Virginia to become the only 16th seed to win in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
A section of the Utah Jazz floor where Michael Jordan made his last shot with the Chicago Bulls, a game-winner to clinch the 1998 NBA title, is now out front.
“It’s never really had its own exhibit before,” Fiddler said. “I think people who had been here before might not have even noticed it.”
Jordan had his own room in the previous layout; the new design gives that honor to Kobe Bryant, a Class of 2020 inductee who died in a helicopter crash in January. (The enshrinement ceremony for Bryant and his class has been postponed because of the pandemic.)
The goal for such standalone displays is to turn them over every few years or so. That could keep the Bryant exhibit in place until right about the time LeBron James is up for a enshrinement, Fiddler noted.
“Without knowing who will be inducted in future years, there may just be others that have the same opportunity,” he said cautiously. “His career and impact on the game has certainly proven itself worthy.”