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Ed Willes' musings: The road to new normal for professional sports is filled with potholes

Crossed the Lions Gate Bridge for the first time in two months so it was a big week. Now here’s something even bigger, the musings and meditations on the world of sports.

Hundreds of questions remain unanswered as the NHL continues to build towards resuming play but, if you were wondering what the new normal might look like, we refer to Major League Baseball’s health-and-safety protocol, which was leaked to ESPN over the weekend.

The 67-page document outlines the measures MLB will undertake to insure a relatively safe playing environment. It’s also hard to wrap your mind around the detail and scope of the new world order.

To maintain social distancing, for example, new dressing rooms will have to be built. If the NHL goes ahead with the hub-city model, that will mean six teams in one arena which will mean at least 12 dressing rooms built to NHL specs.

That’s just for starters. In the MLB document, post-game showers at the arena are discouraged. Training rooms, weight rooms and any common area all present their own challenges.

Testing, you ask? That begins first thing in the morning when temperatures are taken. They are taken again when the players arrive at the stadium and that doesn’t account for the coronavirus test, administered multiple times during the week, or the blood test, administered monthly.

Players will have to sit six feet from each other on the bench. In baseball’s case that means some players will be sitting in the stands. In hockey’s case that could mean a multi-tiered bench, an elongated bench or something else. Coaches will have to stand two metres apart.

After the game it’s mandatory players return to the hotel. They’re not allowed to leave the hotel without special permission.

There’s more of course, including designated entrances, strict limitations on who can enter the team’s bubble, increased transportation options to insure social distancing (these don’t include Uber and public transit) and the overarching issues of cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene.

According to reports, the NHL is also considering narrowing its hub cities down to two locales. That will only complicate a number of these issues.

The point is, in the excitement to restart the games, the size and nature of the undertaking might not have been full appreciated. By now it should be.

On a related note, watched the Bayern Munich win over Union Berlin in the Bundesliga from beginning to end on Sunday and it was revealing.

Without fans, the atmosphere and ambient sound was provided by players on the field and coaches on the bench. That was jarring.

The TV coverage, meanwhile, was fine even if the quality of play was understandably ragged.

This is also worth noting. In six Bundesliga games over the weekend, eight soft-tissue injuries were reported.

Assuming the NHL resumes play, you can expect the same thing: a cold, antiseptic environment, players trying to adjust after a long layoff, and a decent TV show.

It will be a pale impersonation of what we expect from the game but we’re judging things by a different standard these days.

The presence of Alphonso Davies in the Bayern lineup also made the game notable.

It’s taken the former Whitecap less than a year to establish his place in the European power’s starting 11 but he’s there now and he’s emerged as one of the young stars in the global game. The speed, the skill and the artistry are still on display but now he’s standing out among the best players in the world as Bayern’s left back. And we’re not even sure if that’s his best position.

Ten years down the road we might be talking about Davies’ impact on soccer in this country the way we talk about Steve Nash’s impact on basketball. As it is, he changes so many things for the national team and the best part of all this is his journey is just starting.

Save a thought and a prayer for Captain Jennifer Casey, the Snowbird pilot who lost her life over the weekend in Kamloops trying to raise the spirits of people in the country. There isn’t a whole lot that makes sense in our world these days.

And finally, in a career that spanned five decades , Wally Buono had a front-row seat for everything the CFL had to offer. He played for the Montreal Alouettes when they packed 60,000 into Olympic Stadium. He coached for the dearly departed Montreal Concordes. He ran the Calgary Stampeders when they produced some of the best-ever teams in CFL history with Doug Flutie as their quarterback. He ran the Stampeders when owner Larry Ryckman went broke and Buono had to put team expenses on his personal credit card.

He’s seen it all which, in the case of the CFL, is saying something. But he’s never seen anything like the threat COVID-19 poses to the venerable institution.

This is way different,” the former Lions head coach and GM said over the phone. “I understand in the ‘90s it was touch and go but there was never doubt about playing and giving the fans a product.

“As a guy who got a lot out of the CFL I feel for the players and the coaches. They want to work. Definitely. They’re in a tough, tough situation.”

Buono did speak to one of the major issues confronting the league. Because teams operate on such thin margins, they tend to spend money as they receive it. That’s less of a problem when games are played and revenue is flowing. It’s a significant problem when there’s no money coming in and it will intensify if teams have to issue refunds on season-ticket money.

“This is the problem now,” Buono said. “All the clubs have received the money and the fans have got nothing in return. A lot of the money’s already been spent. I understand the league’s predicament.”

This helps explains why the CFL is desperate to salvage the 2020 season. On Friday, Lions owner David Braley told TSN 1040 the league could return with an eight- or nine-game schedule after Labour Day but, “If we don’t play this year there’s a very good chance we won’t survive.”

In response, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie didn’t exactly dismiss Braley’s statement. He just said he was more optimistic about the league’s chances and, “There’s a way through this.”

There might be. But that’s going to require a lot of understanding and patience from government and the league’s fans.

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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