Local sports took a major step toward returning to a new normal Friday, as Gov. Jay Inslee announced that pro sports can resume practices and activities in all counties, regardless of phase, but cannot have fans in stadiums.
In total, 14 counties were approved to move into the next phase of Inslee’s Safe Start plan Friday. King County, home to the Mariners, Seahawks, Storm, Sounders and Huskies, was approved to move into a modified version of Phase 1 (or Phase 1.5). Under the new phase, outdoor gatherings of five people or fewer are allowed.
Snohomish and Pierce counties were approved for Phase 2, which among other things allows youth-sports practices to resume outdoors as long as players are spread five feet apart and are in groups of no more than five people, Inslee said.
In total, 34 of Washington’s 39 counties have been approved for some level of reopening.
Here’s a look at what the new guidelines mean for Seattle’s professional and college teams.
The Seahawks were allowed to have coaches back in the building as soon as Friday. The NFL on Thursday told every team that coaches would be allowed back in facilities Friday if it was approved by state and local authorities.
The NFL had expected that all but one team — the 49ers — would be approved and able to have coaches work in facilities.
The league has hoped to keep every team on the same reopening path and not have some teams moving back into facilities — or resume practicing and other steps down the line — before others.
NFL teams are in the midst of their offseason programs and have been holding virtual meetings.
Players are still not allowed in team facilities, so Friday’s move simply means that coaches can hold those meetings from the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton.
The NFL has not said definitively if players will be allowed in team facilities before the window for the offseason program ends June 26 (players who are in active physical rehab programs have been allowed in team facilities).
Even if players are allowed in team facilities, teams are not expected to be back on the field until training camps in late July.
— Bob Condotta
As negotiations between Major League Baseball owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association continue to achieve little, there is some progress in allowing baseball to be played in Seattle — if there is a season.
Under Inslee’s announced guidelines and by meeting any requirements set in an agreement with MLB and the MLBPA, the Mariners could hold a spring training 2.0 and regular-season games at T-Mobile Park without fans if and when baseball starts games.
“We are delighted that our public officials have determined that professional sporting activities, providing all criteria are met, are able to resume,” Mariners owner John Stanton said. “And we are thrilled at the possibility of playing baseball at T-Mobile Park this season.”
Before this announcement, the Mariners had been working with state, county and city officials, as well as public-health officials, to develop a plan for baseball provided there is an agreement.
There was some fear that if the city or King County remained locked firmly into Phase 1, the organization would not only have to hold a spring training 2.0 at the team’s complex in Peoria, Arizona, but also potentially play the first regular-season games there until gatherings of more than five people were allowed. But this appears to pave the way for the Mariners to hold a spring training 2.0 at T-Mobile Park, which they would prefer to Arizona.
The team still needs final approval from the city, which can enforce limitations. If an agreement is reached in the coming days between MLB and the MLBPA and spring training were to start before approval from the city, the Mariners could start spring training in Arizona with a quick transition back to Seattle.
Given that the Mariners will bring back at least 50 players with the coaching staff, the medical staff and other necessary people, they would have to work in multiple shifts for a spring training. With Pierce County moving into Phase 2, the additional use of Cheney Stadium in Tacoma could also be an option.
Under the Mariners’ Return to the Ballpark plan, only staff required to do work inside T-Mobile Park would return. The remainder of the employees would continue to work remotely for now.
— Ryan Divish
Garth Lagerwey, the Sounders’ general manager and president of soccer, already upgraded the club to a Phase 1.5 of training with approval Thursday. The Starfire Sports field the club uses in Tukwila is bracketed into a grid so players can social-distance during drills, a ball being the only equipment permitted to pass between them.
Major League Soccer protocol also states no player is permitted to interchange between small groups during a session. Coaches are required to wear masks on the sideline, and everyone must have their temperature checked, frequently use hand sanitizer and is required to stay home if ill.
Inslee’s plan for reopening aligns with MLS’s lifting of its full-training moratorium this week. The Sounders will take that step once King County is approved for Phase 2.
The league is expected to announce next week the final details regarding its return-to-play tournament, slated to kick off as early as July 9 at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida.
— Jayda Evans
Friday’s announcement specifically states that it excludes “school-connected or administered team sports.”
So what does it really mean for the University of Washington? Not a whole lot.
Still, there is continued optimism that a segment of Husky student-athletes — including football players — will return to campus by the middle of the month. The Pac-12 is allowing its member schools to resume voluntary workouts on campuses June 15. In an interview with John Clayton on 710 ESPN radio on Friday, UW athletic director Jen Cohen said, “We’re targeting that time to start to bring the students that need access the most to our training facility (back to Seattle).”
Cohen added that “it’s one of those things where our students really have to make this decision (on whether to return to campus) with their families for themselves. We feel like our facilities and the protocols we have in place are more protective of our student-athletes maybe than some of the circumstances that they might be in right now.”
The Pac-12 has reportedly required all its student-athletes, upon arriving on campus, to undergo COVID-19 tests as well as antibody testing. Weekly COVID-19 tests also would follow. Cohen emphasized that athletes would participate exclusively in “small, outdoor, dedicated workouts” and that there will be a “slow dial” for how students are brought back to campus — rather than mass arrivals.
The end goal, of course, is to safely play full-scheduled seasons in the fall.
“At this point there isn’t anything out there that’s telling us that we aren’t going to be able to have a full football season or a full fall sports season,” Cohen said.
— Mike Vorel
The WNBA submitted a return-to-play proposal that mirrors its NBA counterparts and would also be played in Florida, sources told ESPN and The Washington Post. The Storm declined to comment.
While details of a potential return are still unclear, under Inslee’s plan, players would be allowed to practice in some capacity.