The Latest: NBA reminding teams players overseas can return

The Latest on the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on sports around the world:

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The NBA reminded its teams Wednesday that players who are currently outside the U.S. have been cleared to return, though quarantine rules may apply in some areas.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf signed an order last week providing the exemption for professional athletes from rules put in place during the pandemic that would have otherwise barred their entry into the U.S.

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Wolf says sports “provide much needed economic benefits, but equally important, they provide community pride and national unity. In today’s environment, Americans need their sports.”

A small number of NBA players from foreign countries left for home during the pandemic. Teams are expecting guidance, perhaps as soon as later this week, as to when they will be allowed to resume full-scale practicing in advance of a possible resumption of the NBA season later this summer.

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The NBA has been sued by the owners of the building that houses the NBA Store, who say the league owes more than $1.2 million after not paying rent in April or May.

The league responded by saying it doesn’t believe the suit has merit, because it was forced to close the New York store due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBA Media Ventures, LLC is required to pay $625,000 of its $7.5 million annual fee on the first day of each month under teams of its lease with 535-545 FEE LLC, according to the suit filed Tuesday in New York.

The NBA entered into the lease agreement for the property at 545 Fifth Ave. in November 2014.

Counting other fees such as water, the owners of the building are seeking more than $1.25 million.

“Like other retail stores on Fifth Avenue in New York City, the NBA Store was required to close as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Under those circumstances, we don’t believe these claims have any merit,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. “We have attempted, and will continue to attempt, to work directly with our landlord to resolve this matter in a manner that is fair to all parties.”

The NBA suspended play on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic and faces hundreds of millions of dollars in losses this season, even as it works toward trying to resume play in July.

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Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones says it would be “very strange” to play in stadiums with no fans or a limited number of spectators this season if that becomes necessary for safety reasons.

“It would bring back kind of like a Little League feel when there’s nobody at the games except for your parents and things like that,” Jones said Wednesday during a Zoom session with reporters.

Jones said that “the fans are what make the game’’ and added that “they are what gets the players going.’’

Packers safety Adrian Amos said players would just have to get accustomed to performing at the same level without the energy that fans bring to a game.

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The athletic department at the University of Kansas has told donors it will make across-the-board pay cuts and furloughs as it faces a budget shortfall of up to 20%, even if full football and basketball seasons are played.

Jayhawks athletic director Jeff Long said in an email that employees making less than $50,000 will face a three-week furlough this summer; those making up to $149,000 can choose between a 10-day furlough or a pay cut of either 3.5% or 5% depending on their salary; those making up to $299,000 can choose a 10-day furlough or cut of either 7.5% and 10%; and those making $300,000 or more will take a 10% pay cut.

Long joined football coach Les Miles and basketball coach Bill Self in taking pay cuts in April. When those are combined with the latest cuts, Long said the athletic department would save about $1.15 million.

“We prolonged enacting measures that impact our people as long as we could,” Long said in the email, “but it has become clear that the across-the-board reductions were necessary for the short and long-term financial needs of this department.”

___ Professional sports can resume but without spectators in parts of Pennsylvania where the governor’s stay-at-home order to stem the spread of the coronavirus is no longer in force.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Wednesday that teams and competitors will be allowed to practice or play in counties where the Democratic governor’s yellow or green designation applies in his stoplight-colored, three-phase reopening plan.

To resume, a team or a league must develop a coronavirus safety plan that has been approved by the state Department of Health. It must include testing or screening and monitoring of all “on-venue” players and personnel.

Wolf is allowing overnight camps and organized youth sports to begin or resume in areas where the green phase is in effect.

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The NHL has advised its teams to prepare for a roster of 28 players and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for training camp and the playoffs if it can return this summer.

Several general managers on Wednesday said they were told that would be the anticipated roster limit. Each team is limited to 50 personnel of any kind in one of the two cities that would host games.

The league says training camp isn’t expected to begin before early July. If the NHL goes ahead with its 24-team playoff format, games could begin in late July or early August.

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Houston Texans superstar J.J. Watt hopes there are fans in the stands when the NFL season kicks off this fall.

“We love our fans and (having their) energy, the excitement, the adrenaline, it makes it what it is,” Watt said Wednesday.

But if fans aren’t allowed in stadiums because of the coronavirus pandemic, it won’t change anything about how the defensive end plays.

“As an athlete, as a competitor you can play in front of no fans,” Watt said. “We want to go out there and compete. It doesn’t matter if it’s a practice against another team, it doesn’t matter if it’s a practice against our own team, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the weight room against yourself, you’re always looking to compete.”

The NFL season is scheduled to open Sept. 10 when the Texans travel to face the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Watt said he doesn’t have any inside information as to whether the season will begin as planned amid the pandemic, but he’s working on the assumption that it will.

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The pause in the NHL season has allowed the hard-luck Columbus Blue Jackets to get healthy again.

The Blue Jackets had a group of veterans sidelined and were patching together lines with rookies when the season was halted in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now with plans for the playoffs moving forward for this summer, Columbus is expected to be at near full strength, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a conference call Wednesday with reporters.

That includes star defenseman Seth Jones and the team’s leading scorer, Oliver Bjorkstrand, both of whom had broken a foot. And goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins will be healthy simultaneously for the time since late December.

In the 24-team playoff plan announced by the NHL on Tuesday, the Blue Jackets will play the Toronto Maple Leafs in a best-of-five qualifying series.

“Now it’s time to put what we learned this year to good use and make sure it’s not wasted,” Columbus captain Nick Foligno said. “If we’re going to get healthier, then the bar gets raised.”

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The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks are considering moving training camp to the United States because of Canada’s 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for those arriving in the country.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning says the team is still in the early stages of that possibility. He said he has talked to colleagues with other Canadian teams about the quarantine regulation and how it might put them at a competitive disadvantage.

The NHL on Tuesday unveiled a 24-team playoff format if it can return this summer but said camps aren’t expected to begin before July 1.

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Some assistant coaches and sports department support staff will lose their jobs as Youngstown State University eliminates 22 positions as part of budget cuts related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Athletic director Ron Stollo said about half of the 22 are coaching positions. The school has 21 intercollegiate sports, and none are being eliminated.

Strollo said as an enrollment-boosting measure the school had added men’s swimming and women’s lacrosse and doubled the size of the men’s and women’s cross-country teams before the pandemic and uncertainty about the future adversely affected revenue.

The personnel cuts and other moves in the sports department are expected to save $2 million, said Strollo, who along with coaches took pay cuts ranging from 6% to 10%.

New football coach Doug Phillips was in the process of hiring his coaching staff when the school was forced to shut down. Four positions in the football program will be eliminated, Strollo said, but they don’t include any on-field coaching personnel.

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The Premier League says four people from three clubs have tested positive for the coronavirus in the third round of testing in the last 10 days as teams return to training.

The league did not identify whether the people infected with COVID-19 are players or club staff. There were tests on 1,008 people.

English soccer was suspended in March and hopes to restart next month.

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A 16-player team tennis event featuring Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu will take part at the LTP Daniel Island in Charleston, South Carolina, next month.

The Credit One Bank Invitation will also include Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. It will be played from June 23-28.

Organizers say the event will be conducted without fans. The facility had been scheduled to host the Volvo Car Open this past April, but the tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event will work with the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) to ensure safety and health protocols are adhered to. To minimize people necessary on site, players will call their own lines and get assistance from only one ball person and one official on court.

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Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has announced a multimillion-dollar commitment through the team’s foundation to provide jobs and food during the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting Monday at the Dolphins’ stadium, the initiative will give out a minimum of 1,000 meals each weekday for up to 12 months. On Sundays, the Dolphins will work with churches and community groups to purchase food from restaurants to provide a minimum of 1,000 meals.

The team said Ross will invest at least $2 million, and with matching donations the goal is a $4 million total impact. The program will generate jobs and revenue for the restaurant industry, and employ guest services and security staff at the stadium, the Dolphins said.

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The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has approved Keeneland’s request for a five-day, spectator-free meet July 8-12 that will allow the running of marquee prep races for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby and Oaks.

Keeneland canceled its 16-day spring meet in March amid public health concerns because of the coronavirus outbreak. That initially eliminated the $600,000 Grade 2 Blue Grass and $400,000 Grade 1 Ashland, which award points toward the Derby and its sister race for fillies, Oaks. The track last week requested the special meet, which the KHRC granted after Ellis Park made the dates available.

The Ashland and Blue Grass are now back in play for the Oaks and Derby, which are set for Sept. 4-5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

“Keeneland appreciates the quick response of the Commission to our request, and we applaud all their work on behalf of Kentucky racing during these unprecedented times,” said Keeneland President/CEO Bill Thomason, who also thanked Ellis Park in a news release.

Added Ellis Park general manager Jeffrey Inman, “We are all in this together, and Ellis Park is pleased to work with Keeneland on a plan that benefits our horsemen and Kentucky racing.”

Keeneland plans to run at least nine races each day and will feature 10 graded stakes events.

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The Kontinental Hockey League says it plans to return on Sept. 2 to open the 2020-21 season.

The last KHL game was played on March 12. The season was then suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The KHL is widely considered to be the strongest hockey league outside the NHL. It ended its 2019-20 season part-way through the playoffs without declaring a champion.

The league says Sept. 2 is a preliminary date which could be subject to “necessary corrections” depending on how the coronavirus situation develops.

International travel restrictions became a problem for KHL teams. The league has teams in six countries but most are in Russia.

The projected Sept. 2 start date is broadly in line with other recent KHL seasons.

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