There may not be a better person in town to ask about restarting sports amid the coronavirus pandemic than Andy Dolich. With more than 30 years of experience as an executive for professional baseball, basketball, football, hockey and soccer teams, the Los Altos resident now runs his own sports consulting business.
While Dolich acknowledged that pro, college, high school and youth sports leagues face enormous challenges as they prepare to play games again, doing so could make pandemic life – which he called “the new abnormal” – more palatable.
“COVID-19 is a gut punch to America physically, mentally and spiritually,” he said. “Can sports be the medicine to take care of all that? No, but it can help.”
But how and when will that medicine be administered? Among the pro leagues, “everyone has a different plan” to resume play, Dolich said, and some of the entities are far ahead of others when it comes to implementation.
Among the major pro sports, he put the NBA at the forefront.
“In terms of leadership, safety and strategy, I think basketball seems to be the first one to restart,” said Dolich, who spent one year as president of the Golden State Warriors and seven years as president of business operations for the Memphis Grizzlies. “I have a high regard for (commissioner) Adam Silver and the level of trust he has with the players.”
The NBA has plans to resume its season by the end of July, with the top 22 teams playing and living at the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., in an effort to limit exposure to COVID-19. Dolich wonders how easy it will be to keep everyone sequestered in one location for a month or two (depending on playoff success).
“Good luck with that,” he said. “You’re dealing with human nature. Everyone has their own manner of living their life.”
Because the NBA doesn’t intend to have fans in the stands, Dolich isn’t sure these games will be as exciting to those watching from afar on their TVs and computers.
“I welcome basketball back and its incredible athletes, but to me, it’s about the incredible live environment,” he said. “How are they going to replicate that?”
Major League Baseball has much bigger concerns, according to Dolich, who spent 15 years with the Oakland A’s. He called the league “the furthest away of any of the sports from having a true season” because the players and owners can’t get on the same page.
“It’s a nine-inning game and they seem to have nine different proposals,” he said. “It’s a tug-of-war between billionaires and millionaires. Every day, they seem to get farther down into the quicksand.”
Dolich added that “there’s a lack of trust” between the two sides, and that commissioner Rob Manfred is unable to unite them like Silver and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have in their respective leagues.
Football – at all levels – has a good chance of starting the season on time, according to Dolich, because “there are fewer games and people’s long-term love of professional, collegiate and high school teams.”
However, there also could be drawbacks to playing in the fall.
“Football, with the calendar, could be victim of (postponement) if we have a rebound of COVID-19,” said the former chief operating officer for the San Francisco 49ers. “It’s also a sport in which you exchange bodily fluids on every play. How is that going to work? How many players will test positive?”
Once football and other sports start playing again, there’s the matter of when to allow fans – and how many of them – back in stadiums and arenas. Dolich said that in places such as the South – where college football is king – fans of Alabama, Louisiana State University and the like won’t take kindly to being told that their seats won’t be available.
“If they only allow in 30 percent, the fans are going to say, ‘Why didn’t you pick me?’” Dolich said. “They will be way more than upset.”
Fans in other places – such as the Bay Area – may not feel as comfortable sitting in the stands, even if they are only partially filled.
“Do you trust the venues? Your family’s safety is a stake,” Dolich said. “That may not happen until people get back to their daily routines, and I don’t think we know when that will be.”