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With coronavirus pandemic, MLB has choices to make, and soon

NBA suspended its season, NCAA tournament games will have no fans. What’s next for MLB?

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The sports landscape is changing by the hour amid the coronavirus pandemic, but what that means for baseball remains to be seen. For now, games go on, with opening day two weeks away.

But options have been discussed between Major League Baseball, the players union, and teams regarding alternatives, from moving games, to playing games with no fans, to shortening the season.

“Every single topic has been discussed, and it’s one of those things where we’re learning more all the time. It’s figuring out what things look like later today, tomorrow,” Andrew Friedman told Alanna Rizzo on SportsNet LA before Wednesday night’s Dodgers game. “All of it is premature at this point in terms of what’s going to happen in six months, four months, three months. We’re just trying to figure out the right way to proceed in the near term.”

That interview with Friedman was before the NBA suspended its season after a player, believed to be Rudy Gobert of the Jazz, tested positive for coronavirus.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told congresspeople Wednesday that coronavirus was going to get worse.

“We would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it,” Fauci said. “But as a public official, anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.”

The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially classified coronavirus as a pandemic, the same day San Francisco and Oakland both prohibited gatherings of over 1,000 people and the governor of Washington prohibited events with more than 250 people in three counties, including Seattle.

The Bay Area announcements will cause changes to the exhibition series between the A’s and Giants. The Mariners are making arrangements to play their regular season opening series elsewhere.

Earlier Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Department of Health said there were no such plans for LA, for now, adding, “We will get to a point in LA county where we ask for events to close, but we’re not there yet.”

Other than in specific cases like in Seattle where large gatherings are limited, MLB hasn’t yet decided to limit fans or postpone games, even exhibitions.

In a statement Tuesday, Major League Baseball acknowledged that things could change very quickly, noting, “We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary. While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.”

On Wednesday alone we saw the NCAA decide to hold all men’s and women’s basketball tournament games without fans, and several conferences reversed course and will do the same for their own tournaments beginning Thursday.

With large gatherings deemed risky by public health professionals, it might only be a matter of time before MLB follows suit.